By John Bassetti
Garfield junior Tyler Klouda and Grand Valley junior Jocelyn DeVan were repeat winners of the Ray Sweeney Invitational, a cross-country meet held at Brookfield High’s course for the second straight year due to construction of a K-8 building on land in Champion that rendered the traditional Sweeney Invitational site unusable for the annual event.
Compared to his winning time of 17:03.74 on Saturday, Klouda’s winning time as a sophomore was 17:51. Now, 16, Klouda was fifth in the state in Division III last year.
DeVan was the top girl finisher on Saturday in 21:54.36, after a winning time of 22:41 in 2016.
Klouda felt that he’d let other, younger guys lead the first mile or mile-and-a-half, so he hung in a pack.
“At the mile marker, I thought the pace kind of slowed down, so I took it from there and tried to push myself and extent my gap and finish hard.”
Klouda’s 47-second improvement in Sweeney Invitational times since last year helps his outlook.
“This year we’re [Garfield boys] in Division II, so I’m hoping to still improve on the finish [fifth in 2016], even among the larger schools.”
Boardman’s Mitchel Dunham and Girard’s Sarah Paige Ryser were top finishers among local teams. On Saturday, Dunham, a sophomore, was third overall among boys in 17:43.03, while Ryser, a senior, placed sixth among the girls with a time of 23:21.09.
Following Dunham was Champion’s Mikel Lagaras in 17:52.93, while Boardman’s Mark Moradian was fifth in 17:58.58. Right behind Ryser was Lowellville’s Maddie Warren in 23:23.12.
Team-wise, Geneva’s boys edged out second-place Boardman, 46-59, while Garfield, Rootstown and Geneva were the top three girls teams with point totals of 31, 78 and 89, respectively.
Sweeney champions a year ago were Grand Valley’s boys and the Garfield girls.
Ryser was third at last year’s Sweeney Invitational in 24:04. She also ran over the Brookfield course in 2016 when she placed third at the Trumbull County meet.
“It’s a tough course and it’s always good to race here because its difficult terrain helps you improve.”
In Girard’s previous two meets this season with larger fields, Ryser had sixth- and 11th-place finishes. Although she’s been in track, Ryser, daughter of Girard High School principal Bill Ryser, switched from volleyball to cross-country last fall.
“The weather was beautiful and there was a nice breeze — not too hot, not too cold,” Ryser said of the mostly sunny skies and 73-degree temperature.
Warren, a senior whose time was 25:51 in the Ray Sweeney meet at Brookfield in 2016, said that her run on Saturday was okay, but admits that she could have done a lot better.
“I’m proud of the place I finished in,” Warren said of Saturday’s time, but added that her times in Lowellville’s previous meets so far this season were “a whole minute faster, for sure.”
Some of the Lowellville Rockets runners were spotted with the “We Kick Grass!” slogan on their jerseys.
“We think of a silly one every year and that was the one we came up with this year,” Warren said.
Dunham said that his last competition at Brookfield’s course was as a middle school runner.
On Saturday, Dunham battled with Grand Valley’s John Steimle, the runnerup in 17:26.67.
“He got a bit of a lead after the first-mile mark, and then I kept going after him during the second,” Dunham said. “We kept going at it until he pulled away heading into the final stretch. It wasn’t a bad race for how hilly the course is, so I’m not disappointed.”
Although Boardman qualified for regionals as a team in 2016, Dunham said he’s hoping to qualify for state this year as an individual.
Teammate Moradian started fast, but, eventually, was slowed by the hills.
“I was really happy how fast I was out there,” the senior said. “I tried keeping up with it and did pretty well, so, overall, I was happy.”
Moradian’s previous appearance on Brookfield’s course was his freshman year.
Boardman coach John Phillips said that the Spartans skipped the Ray Sweeney meet at Brookfield in 2016 and traveled to Dover instead.
“This is ACT weekend, so we lose some juniors and seniors to testing. We figured, why not go back [to Sweeney] instead of driving to Dover. It worked out best to stay local.”