By Greg Gulas
The Salem and Maplewood boys, Poland girls and the Bulldogs’ Maggie Sebest were top finishers at the district cross country meet, held Saturday at the Trumbull County Fairgounds.
A total of eight local boys and five local girls teams will now advance to next week’s regionals at Boardman High School while 47 total individuals, including 26 local boys will now get ready for this Saturday’s regional meet.
On the boys side of the ledger, area team representatives include Howland (the Tigers narrowly outdistanced Boardman, 141-143 for the fourth and final spot) in Division I, Salem, Poland, Lakeview and LaBrae in Division II and Maplewood, McDonald and Mineral Ridge in Division III.
Girls teams qualifying include Poland, Lakeview and Howland in Division II, and McDonald and Maplewood in Division III.
No area girls team qualified in Division I with the closest a sixth-place finish by the Canfield Cardinals.
Sebest, a junior, who finished runner-up as a freshman and sophomore, crossed the finish line in 20:12.38 and just ahead of Southeast High School’s Hannah Schill (20:20.23) and Howland’s Maria Dellimuti (20:27.27).
She is seeking a third consecutive state appearance.
“I just wanted to go out, do my very best and not give up. With course conditions the way they were, the goal was to stay on the outside and not fall,” she said. “It’s an awesome feeling to qualify for regionals as a team, and a really great feeling individually to be able to win the race. Our goal now as a team is to get to state.”
Poland (59 points) won the Division II title over Lakeview (78 points) with Howland (84 points) finishing 25 points off the pace.
“It was a very competitive district and I felt going in that a six-point spread would separate the top three teams,” Poland coach Kim Grisdale added. “This was our first competition since the AAC championships three weeks ago. The girls ran on their own and did the HOKA One One field test. It wasn’t a fast course today, but I was pleased with all of our girls’ efforts, especially Maggie. She’s a great leader.”
The Salem boys took top honors in Division II, outdistancing Poland, 100-105 while in Division III, Trumbull County had a stranglehold on the top three boys slots with Maplewood (25), and ITCL foes McDonald (75) and Mineral Ridge (114) right behind.
Maplewood’s Nick Cowger, who finished third overall, led seven Rockets that finished in the top 16.
“We went into the race knowing that we would be one of the top teams in our division so it feels really great to win the district title,” Cowger stated. “It helped to pace off of the other runners, especially Tyler Klouda of Garfield, who won and Badger’s Ty Reeher, who finished second.”
Boardman’s Chris Butler, who finished fifth and Howland’s Vinny Mauri at sixth were the area’s top finishers in Division I.
“It was very muddy and quite cold, but that’s what cross country is all about,” Butler noted. “We worked hard all year and our goal was to get to regionals. Now, it’s about doing our best at regionals with the hope of getting to state.”
Mauri said the weather conditions were a challenge for everyone.
“In addition to the mud, you also had to fight the wind,” he said. “We pushed each other all season to it’s a great accomplishment to get the team to regionals.”
There was no girl’s team qualifier locally in Division I, but Boardman’s Casey Zaitzew dodged the elements to become the area’s highest qualifier as she finished sixth in a time of 6:25.9.
“The course, especially at the start and then by the woods, was like running in pudding,” she noted. “Running late and it being the sixth race of the day also made it kind of tough. I’m used to running early in the day so when you run late, you have the whole day to think about your race.”
Poland’s Andrew Comstock (5:34.8) was the top area qualifier in Division II, finishing third overall while in Division III girl’s action, McDonald freshman Anna Guerra (6:30.4) finished fifth.