By ERIC MAUK
Saturday’s 88th running of the state cross country championships at National Trail Raceway was an anomaly in many ways.
The beautiful weather was a stark contrast to the normal meteorological conditions that have coaches and fans bundled up and guzzling hot coffee. The course was hard and fast and the hundreds of runners could use every inch of the 3.1-mile course to their advantage.
Unfortunately, one of the bigger year-over-year changes in the state meet came in the Division III boys race as the two-time defending state champion Maplewood had a tough day, finishing in third.
“We had four fantastic races out of the first five, they gave it all they had and some days it just isn’t enough,” Rockets coach Dave Deeter said. “They expect to do well and the hard thing is that if they don’t bring home the trophy, it is looked upon as a failure.
“But I don’t look at it that way. But when you have done as well as we have over the last few years, it’s tougher when you don’t win.”
Badger freshman Miranda Stanhope placed ninth and Western Reserve senior Ashleigh Rowley finished 11th in the Div. III girls race. Grand Valley junior Grace Steimle was 17th while McDonald was fifth in team standings.
Poland’s boys team finished 20th in Division II. In Div. I, Boardman’s Chris Butler was 30th.
Maplewood was paced by All-Ohio selection Nick Cowger, who finished 16th overall with a time of 16:17.8.
The Rockets had four of its point scorers in the top 27 of team points, but had too big of a gap to the next runner, leaving them to finish behind Ft. Loramie and St. Thomas Aquinas.
For Maplewood, the third-place finish was the lowest in the last four years — a mark that is still the setting the standard for most programs in the state.
“It definitely means a lot to come out here and be contenders every year, but with a team like that you don’t have to have the super-talented guys, because everybody works so hard,” Cowger said. “Now, we have had the great guys but we build up our program by using every guy we can get and making them all better.”
Mineral Ridge senior Palmer Cameron finished 31st with a time of 16:31.6 while Badger’s Ty Reeher outkicked Maplewood’s Mike Shipman to the line where they finished 33rd and 34th, respectively with a similar time of 16:34.2. Ethan Sparks of Maplewood also finished near the trio, placing 38th with a time of 16:38.2
“I really felt good about how it went,” said Cameron after besting his previous personal record by 26 seconds. “The hardest part of the race is staying disciplined and trying to stay back early. But it’s tough because you can’t get too far back because there are a lot of guys back there and can come from behind and run strong.”
Stanhope’s first appearance at the state meet yielded some coveted hardware after running a time of 18:43.2, and the first-year Brave said that finishing in the top 10 was more than she had hoped for.
“I was definitely happy with how this went,” Stanhope said. “This was one of my best, if not the best races of the season. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with this being my first year, but I was focusing on getting in the top 16, so being ninth is really good.”
Rowley wrapped up her cross-country career by earning her third All-Ohio selection, although after finishing ninth last year, she hoped to be a little higher up the finishing order.
“Today, the race was not how I hoped it would go,” Rowley said. “I was going for the win, and it’s a little heartbreaking.
“After the second mile, I just couldn’t keep my legs moving quickly enough and I got passed a little bit. But it still feels really good, I qualified for four state meets and I had a great season.”
Steimle was unaware that she had earned all-state honors until Mustang coach Kurtis Fletcher interjected the good news in her post-race interview.
Steimle, who won the regional event to get to the state meet, put up a time of 19:00.8 to earn her first All-Ohio mention.
“I’ve been trying to get here [on the All-Ohio podium] ever since I started running and it feels really good,” Steimle said. “I have another year to get back here and hopefully we can do even better next year.”
McDonald’s girls team used an infusion of youth to finish fifth. The team was led by three freshmen, who helped the team recover from a late-season injury to Malina Mitchell.
Mitchell shook off a painful toe injury to finish fourth among her teammates, but the first-year trio of Anna Guerra, Bella Wolford and Sela Jones picked up the slack.
Freshman Anna Guerra led her McDonald squad after posting a time of 19:18.0 and finished 28th
“I was trying very hard to get into the top 20, but I got caught up in the early pace,” Butler said. “I ran a 4:50 for my first mile and that was the fastest first mile I have ever run in a cross-country race. That made the end harder for sure.”
Led by seniors Andrew Comstock (16:49.3) and Noah Smith (17:18.4), Poland completed a run that propelled them from last in the region two years ago to the state championships.
“The boys really worked together as a team and stepped it up in the offseason,” Poland coach Becky Rudzik said. “They dedicated themselves to training in the offseason and did it together, and that made a difference. They really pushed hard and worked for it.”
Butler’s time was 15:52.2 in his first trip to the state meet. He said his race was scuttled by a fast early pace.