By Greg Gulas
The Mahoning Valley will be well-represented, team-wise and individually at Saturday’s state cross country championships.
The McDonald boys and girls teams and Maplewood girls team will compete in Division III.
Eleven individuals from Div. I, II and III also qualified out of the Boardman regional and will tackle the challenging National Trail Recovery course in Hebron.
McDonald’s boys saw their string of 16 consecutive state appearances snapped last season. They’ve won five titles under head coach Chris Rupe.
The Blue Devils girls are guided by Michael Richards, have made 12 state appearances during his 14 seasons at the helm and own a state title (2014).
Michelle Rupe took the Rockets to state when she served as coach in the 1990s, took a hiatus from coaching and now has her team back at state once again after a third-place finish at the regional.
The individual are Vinny Mauri (Howland) in Div. I, Ian Pierson (South Range), Hunter Christopher (Salem), Hailey Zelinsky (Niles), Maggie Sebest (Poland), Carly Hall (Salem) and Maria Dellimuti (Howland)t.
Individual qualifiers in Div. III are Badger’s Lincon Hopkin, LaBrae’s Jakob Rose, East Palestine’s Alexis Cunningham and Badger’s Miranda Stanhope.
McDonald’s boys team finished regional runner-up to East Canton and are devoid of a senior. The Blue Devils feature two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.
“We are a young crew that went into the season looking to grow and develop as racers,” Rupe said. “We’ve endured some bumps in the road that go with a typical season, but this group has definitely responded.
“We’re on the upswing, have gained momentum over the past three weeks and are feeling like a pretty good team right now,” Rupe said. “[Sophomore] Ethan Domitrovich has led us in front, but after that we’re a mixed bunch, an amoeba of racers who have fed off of each other’s energy.”
The other runners are juniors Carson Fortune and Elliot Gibbons, sophomores Zack Canada and Connor Symbolik, and freshmen Brody Rupe and Zack Dern.
“We didn’t qualify last year and since that time our goal has been to get back to state,” Fortune said.
The Blue Devils girls, No. 2 in the most recent state rankings placed first at regional just ahead of runner-up Gilmour Academy. Minster is ranked No. 1 and owns 10 state titles.
”The goal is to get back to the podium. Winning it all would be absolutely amazing,” Richards said. “Our top four runners — senior Malina Mitchell and sophomores Anna Guerra, Sela Jones and Bella Wolford — have been very consistent all season and can hang with Minster.”
Claire Hoffman, Sophie Klase and Alyssa Lynch round out the squad.
Mitchell is making her fourth trip to state.
“Our goal from the beginning has been to win it all, but in order to do so everyone will hopefully record their personal best times,” said Mitchell, The Vindicator’s Female Athlete of the Year as a junior.
Charlotte Crouch is the only senior for the Rockets and will be joined at state by: junior Lydia Manes; sophomores Bella Kellar, Emily Kohlmorgan, Sydney Morris and Brianna Starcher; and freshman Kylee Sheely.
“Our goals are very realistic in that we would love to finish in the Top 10,” Crouch said. That’s a very achievable goal.”
Rupe echoed Crouch’s team goal.
“We were ranked 11th last week and are currently 14th this week,” she said. “Charlotte is the leader of the group, but everyone has come together and been a very important part of our success.”
Sebest, a dual sport athlete who competes on the girls soccer team, is a three-time state qualifier after missing out a season ago.
“I am extremely excited to qualify because this is my senior year,” she said. “Unfortunately, I had a rough year last year with finding out I had asthma and couldn’t finish the qualifying race.”
Pierson’s 16:26 clocking at the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival is the program’s fifth fastest time. He finished eighth in the Boardman regional.
“Qualifying to state means a lot because it shows the amount of work and patience that a runner puts in,” Pierson said. “This is my first time to state so I am really looking forward to Saturday’s event.”
Action gets under way at 9 a.m.