CROSS COUNTRY State meet notebook

Tough fields get tougher every year: Western Reserve senior Ashleigh Rowley didn’t feel like she had a very good race after finishing 11th in the Division III girls event. But a look at the clock shows that the Rowley ran more than seven seconds faster than she did a year ago when she placed ninth. “During the second mile I was moving pretty good, but after that I just couldn’t make my legs move as fast as I wanted and there were some tough girls that got by me,” Rowley said. “Last year heading into the woods after the second mile was where I made up some ground, this year it was tougher.”

Fast start: With as many as 200 runners per race, each time the starting gun went off there was a small section of the pack that tried to win the race in the first 800 yards. Local runners used different strategies to deal with the early front-runners and most found that experience was the only way to properly handle the threat. Maplewood’s Nick Cowger, who finished 16th, said that keeping your head in the first part of the race is extremely hard, but is a key to success. “It’s tough not to go out and run with the guys that are going very fast in the first mile. But as you get older, you get smarter,” Cowger said. “If you have been around, you know who the fast guys are, and you know who the guys are that are going to burn out, you just try to run your race.” Poland’s Andrew Comstock not only kept that in mind for his own race, but tried to pass word back to his fellow Bulldogs during the race “I had a good idea of how fast the first part of the race would be, and I just tried to pass back to the other guys to stay with their plan and not try to catch up too quickly,” Comstock said. “I event went out faster than I normally do, but I felt good, so I went with it. I knew I could push a little more and be OK.”

Reactions: But for those that didn’t have that experience to lean on, the sight of the field sprinting away was too much to ignore. Boardman’s Chris Butler ran the fastest first mile he has ever posted, while Grand Valley freshman John Steimle reported that he needed a mile just to recover from the quick start. “I think I ran well, but I probably went out too fast,” Steimle said. “I probably didn’t get my rhythm, back until the second mile and then I started being able to pass guys.”

Running with the pack: Poland coach Becky Rudzik brought her Bulldogs to the state meet for the first time in a couple of decades and while the work her squad put in during the offseason made a big difference, she praised coach Tim Dwyer for his abilities as well. It’s good to have Tim as a coach. He can still run with the kids and he pushes them hard,” Rudzik said. “Sometimes they need somebody out there on the trail with them to make them go harder.”

Brother and sister act: Grand Valley’s duo of Grace Steimle and her younger brother John represented the Mustangs with Grace claiming All-Ohio honors. John put up a time of 17:10.9 in his first state meet and credited his older sister with helping him prepare. “Grace really helped me by telling me what to expect and how it would happen,” he said. “It helped with the nerves.”

Running the gauntlet: The last 1,000 meters of the state meet is run down a narrow strip of grass, with the dragstrip on the runners’ right side and a grandstand full of screaming supporters on the left. It is a strip that can win or lose a race, as local runners found out. “The last 1,000 meters is the hardest part of the race by far,” said Boardman’s Chris Butler. “You are trying to give everything you have over that last stretch, but there are guys that have saved up for that part of the race and are coming hard to pass you. It’s hard.” But it can also be extremely rewarding according John Steimle. “It’s a great race and a great course,” Steimle said. “I was coming down the last straight thinking that I was running in the state meet and how special it was. I can’t wait to come back here.”

— Eric Mauk

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