McDonald drives through to 2 titles
By Greg Gulas
The McDonald girls successfully defended their title while the Blue Devils supplanted Maplewood atop the boys division as both squads won the 31st Suburban League Cross Country championships Tuesday at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
McDonald senior Malina Mitchell (19:26.9) took top girls honors, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Badger sophomore Miranda Stanhope (19:48.9) and nearly 32 seconds in front of Poland’s Gianna Stanich (19:58.3).
Howland junior Vinny Mauri (16:14.5) won the boys race, finishing nearly 20 seconds better that runner-up Giovanni Copploe (16:34.4) of Canfield and third-place finisher Ethan Sparks (16:36.4) of Maplewood.
Mitchell won her third individual title in four years. She won as a freshman and sophomore and finished second to Stanhope last season.
“It’s special to run against Miranda and it took a great effort today in order to beat her. I was a real mess at the finish line,” Mitchell said. “We push each other and it will be really good in the postseason that we’ve competed against one another.
“It’s nice to win, but nicer to win as a team. We’ve had a special season thus far and I am really looking forward to the post-season.”
Stanhope expected a fight from Mitchell.
“I expected Malina to get off to a good start and wanted to go hard that first mile,” Stanhope said. “After that, I just wanted to stay strong the rest of the race. I’m used to a lot of grass, there were some challenging hills and it was difficult to adjust to the heat, which I wanted to practice today. I’ll hydrate, rest and then evaluate my race.”
The Suburban League includes 42 schools from five different counties (Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Geauga and Ashtabula), drawing nearly 1,500 runners for this year’s event.
Blue Devils girls head coach Mike Richards was well aware of the teams that he had to go up against if he expected to win.
“Going into this season, we knew that the area teams would be getting better because of the junior high programs that are sending quality runners to the varsity level,” Richards said. “We knew Poland, Boardman, Howland and then Lakeview and Maplewood were all getting better, so we weren’t sure how the Suburban League would pan out.
“Going into this meet we knew we had a good shot at doing that, but we are in the middle of a two or three week stretch where we race rather hard or have hard workouts, so we weren’t sure how we would feel today.”
Having several runners under the weather didn’t help.
“Our fifth and sixth runners were both sick and Anna Guerra was also having some breathing issues today, so we decided to run hard but not all out,” Richards said. “Many of the girls felt tired, but I felt like we ran well and it is an honor and privilege to have won the Suburban League the last two years. That’s three out of four years that our seniors have won it.”
Richards also felt that the McDonald boys would perform well.
“We also knew the guys had a shot at winning this year and that has not been done since 2010 when a boys and girls team from the same school has won,” he said. “Ironically, it was McDonald that did it back then as well. I am so proud of this group of girls, who overcame injuries from last year and some disappointment and came back stronger. They’ve really started to gel as a group.”
Mauri averaged a 5:13.7 mile as he ran away from the field for his title.
“I tried to go with Giovanni and Ethan from the start, but ended up running a lot faster mile than I thought so I tried to stay at that pace,” Mauri said. “I ran a lot better with the breeze and a few hills presented a challenge. I like my times from the end of last year to this year and will now get ready for next week’s Trumbull County Championship.”
Copploe said Mauri ran an excellent race.
“I ran with him right off the bat, but around the mile-and-a-half mark he just took off and I knew he was gone,” Copploe said. “I just wanted to keep up my pace in order to beat Ethan Sparks and Ethan Domitrovich. Vinny is one of the best around and this year we’ve really gone at it”
Domitrovich was the highest Blue Devils finisher, placing fourth with a 16:36.9 time. He was just 5/100ths of a second behind Sparks.
Other Blue Devils finishers included Connor Symbolik (19th, 17:41.4), Zack Canada (21st, 17:48.9), Brody Rupe (22nd, 17:49.7) and Elliot Gibbons (29th, 18:06.9).
Like Richards, McDonald boys coach Chris Rupe felt both Blue Devils teams had a chance to walk off with top honors.
“It has been a nice moment-filled season thus far and we were talking last week about how fun it would be if both our boys and girls teams could win the Suburban League title,” Rupe said. “We have some racers on this team and they are a very coachable group. Once they put their spikes on, they just love to race.”