Boardman’s Butler, W. Reserve’s Rowley capture county honors
By Greg Gulas
Boardman senior Chris Butler doesn’t lose many cross country races, usually setting the pace and easily outdistancing his competition.
On the other hand, Western Reserve senior Ashleigh Rowley just tries to keep pace until she is ready to make her move.
On Tuesday at the Mahoning County Cross Country Championships at Austintown Township Park, Butler was one of three Spartans to finish in the top six.
Boardman won the boys meet for the first time since 2013 and the 13th time in the past 15 seasons.
Canfield girls took top honors with 36 points, with Poland (56 points) and Boardman (62 points) rounding out the top threes.
Butler’s 16:37.96 was a little more than eight seconds better than runner-up Giovanni Copploe (16:46.19) of Canfield.
Boardman’s Nick DiGiacomo (17:12.86) was third as less than a minute separating the top six slots.
“I wanted to set the pace and just hoped to stay out front throughout the entire race,” Butler said. “The toughest part of the course was the second hill, but being able to create some distance at about the halfway point was big.”
The Spartans placed first with 33 points, followed by two-time defending champion Austintown Fitch (57 points) and Poland (67 points).
“We had five runners finish in the top 13 spots and haven’t had that since our last title in 2013,” Boardman head coach John Phillips said. “Four runners off that last championship team are currently running in the NCAAs.
“In addition to Chris and Nick, freshman Mitchell Dunham placed sixth and that was really big for us as well,” Phillips said. “We have a rivalry with Austintown Fitch and Cardinal Mooney in all sports and it’s just as intense in cross country.
“Chris set the tone,” Phillips said. “Giovanni Copploe of Canfield is an excellent runner while Fitch’s Ryan Dippolito pushed Nick for that third spot.”
Copploe said Butler’s pace was just a little too fast for the 144-player field.
“It’s pretty tough to play catch-up and while I tried to stay as close as possible, I just couldn’t catch Chris,” Copploe said.
DiGiacomo called his teammate a tremendous talent and was happy to be pushed by Dippolito.
“Chris is a great person and a very talented runner,” DiGiacomo said. “Trying to keep pace with him is really tough so once we hit the halfway point, I was just trying to keep up with Giovanni while staying ahead of Ryan.”
Rowley won the girls division by 31.5 seconds over Poland’s Maggie Sebest (19:40.92). Raquel “Rocky” Markulin (19:55.37) of Canfield was third in the 122-runner field.
In addition to top honors, Rowley became the first Blue Devils runner to walk off with the meet’s top individual honor.
“It’s a very special honor to be the first individual from Western Reserve to win this race,” Rowley said. “I’m just honored to be able to represent my school.
“My plan was to let the field just go out and watch who was setting the pace,” Rowley said. “After the first 800-1,200 meters, I felt really good and started to make my move.
“That last stretch of hills was tough, but I was able to push through it and finish strong.”
Sebest, who also plays soccer, finished runner-up despite nursing a bad cough and tired legs.
“Some of the hills were tough and my legs were a bit tired, but I was able to push through that,” Sebest said. “It just didn’t help being under the weather.”
Markulin has battled injuries over her four-year running career.
“[It’s] been tough, but I’d do it all over again without any hesitation,” Markulin said. “It truly has been a great journey.”