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Dogged determination lifts Poland

Staff photo / John Vargo Halle Sebest of Poland finished third Saturday in the Division II girls district race at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

BAZETTA — Geno Gallo looked back and saw his brother Tony, who pumped his arm at the halfway point around the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

Geno finished near his teammate Logan Flament. The Poland boys cross country team started to trickle through the chute, better known as the finish line.

The Bulldogs rushed through and dominated Saturday’s Division II boys district cross country meet with 31 points — well ahead of Salem (68). Crestwood (100), Lakeview (103) and Ursuline (158) also qualified for next weekend’s Boardman Regional.

Flament, Geno Gallo, Andrew Biggs and Jet Bailey placed fourth through seventh, while Tony Gallo was ninth to account for the team scoring. Excited? You bet.

“We get excited,” Geno said. “It’s a team mentality. We always stress team over individual. We’re able to celebrate us more than individuals.

Staff photo / John Vargo Canfield’s Nick Plant, right, battles with Hudson’s Andrew Goldslager on Saturday in the Division I boys district race at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

“It’s gets us really excited.”

Halle Sebest finished third in the Division II girls race. She finished, but didn’t sit down. The Poland junior felt compelled to help her teammates. She had styrofoam cups of water waiting for her exhausted teammates as they placed in the top 15 — Gianna Stanich, Jackie Grisdale, Ellen Ethridge and Haley Trolio.

Sebest hopes to be doing the same thing next week as the Bulldogs look for their bid to state, which came up points short last season.

Winning district with 41 points, well ahead of second-place Hawken (70) helps. Crestwood (77), Lakeview (94) and Salem (98) all advance to the Boardman Regional.

“It brings us confidence as long as everyone has their A game and brings all they got, acting like it’s the last race,” Sebest said. “It could be like last year.

“We all have to stay together.”

Boardman senior Mitchel Dunham pulled away from Aurora’s Matthew Singleton in the second half of the Division I boys race. Turn by turn, the Spartans distance runner started to get more of a lead. Dunham held on for a win in 15:53.25 — 15 seconds ahead of Singleton.

“Every time we’d go around a turn, I’d put on a bit of surge to make sure I was pulling away,” Dunham said. “So when he comes around the corner, he’s like, ‘How did you put a couple of meters on me already?'”

Looking at Dunham’s blonde, well-groomed hair, one wonders how he keeps it in place during the race?

“It just happens naturally,” Dunham said smiling.

Teammate Frank Bero came in third, just like he projected prior to the race.

Lo and behold, that 1-3 punch up front led the Boardman Spartans back to the regional where they will run on their home course next week. The Spartans finished fourth with 120 points.

The top five teams and top 20 runners in all races but Division III girls advanced to the regional. The top six teams and top 24 runners go on to Boardman in the D-III girls race.

Boardman’s girls finished fourth (106) as well, led by Raegan Burkey’s 12th-place finish.

“It’s been a goal all season. I’m so excited for it to happen,” Burkey said.

Canfield’s Delaney O’Brien, who won this year’s Mahoning County Meet, was fourth in the DivisionI girls race. She was surprised at the finish against some top-flight runners from the Cleveland area.

“I think I have to believe in myself,” she said. “I know God helped me. It was great to race against some of these girls I don’t usually get to see.”

Fellow Cardinal Nick Plant was edged out by Hudson’s Andrew Goldslager for sixth place in Division I, but seventh was good enough for the regional meet. State? That might be a different story.

“It might be close,” he said. “I hope I make it.”

South Range’s Connor Nichols remembers when he watched his older cousin, Tim, compete for the Raiders. Tim recently won the Division III 5,000-meter national title in 2017.

Connor saw his cousin compete since he was a third-grader.

“He’s been a big inspiration for me,” said Connor, whose South Range boys team finished third in Division III.

State, that’s what the Poland boys hope for next week. Saturday’s performance might be a good indictor of that hope.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, seeing my team improve like that putting in all the hard work over the season,” Flament said. “They’re like my brothers. To see them improve like that, it’s awesome.”