Following the first round of postseason competition, several area high school cross country runners are preparing for more formidable opposition at regional meets on Saturday.
Distance runners from Marlington, West Branch, Louisville and St. Thomas Aquinas are Northeast District schools headed to Boardman. Minerva, part of the East District, is slated to compete at Pickerington North.
Marlington’s boys and girls teams and West Branch’s boys team are part of the Division II meet. The boys meet is scheduled to begin at noon, followed by the girls distance race at 1 p.m. Louisville, which won the 2010 Division I boys team championship, returns to that division and that race is set to begin at 3 p.m. St. Thomas Aquinas, normally one of the top Division III programs in the area, advanced one qualifier in each race. The boys’ meet, the first of six races, is set to begin at 9 a.m., followed by the girls meet.
Minerva also advanced its girls and boys teams to the Division II regional at Pickerington North. The girls team will run at 1 p.m., one hour after the boys team competes.
Marlington, the fifth-rated Division II boys team, won the GlenOak district with a young five-man unit. The Dukes are led by junior individual champion Noah Graham, followed by sophomores Cohen Boyce and Nash Minor, junior Liam Blake and freshman Colin Cernansky.
“We faced good competition at GlenOak and we’ll get to face more talented teams at Boardman, such as defending state champion Woodridge and Bay Village, the fourth-rated team in the state,” Marlington coach Melissa Graham-Perkins said. “We had a great team race at district and we’re expecting to have another one at the regional meet.”
Graham, a state qualifier last year, ran a first-place time of 16 minutes, 12.74 seconds at the district meet. Boyce placed ninth (17:04.70), Minor 11th (17:07.72), Blake 19th (17:34.05) and Cernansky 20th (17:36.77).
“Noah got off to a quick lead and kept pushing,” Graham-Perkins said. “Cohen ran a great race, his best effort of the season. Nash was consistent, Liam ran a very solid third mile and Colin showed a lot of heart and competed hard.
While Marlington easily qualified for regionals, West Branch grabbed the seventh and final qualifying spot.
“I’m very excited for our kids to get a chance to run together again,” West Branch coach Joel Syzmanski said. “It’s the first time the boys team made it to the regionals since 2005.”
Senior Justin Cederbloom placed 14th at the district meet, running a personal-best time (17:26.09). Freshman Michael Dorris finished 21st (17:36.98). Junior Josiah Hicks was 31st (18:02.510, followed by sophomore Owen Hoopes in 57th place (18:43.85) and senior Ethan Overly in 58th place (18.44.68).
“We had Cedarbloom run a personal best and Hoopes run lower than 19 [minutes] for the first time,” Syzmanski said. “We’re looking for each runner to better his time.”
Louisville, which placed fourth at GlenOak, features a five-man junior team headed by Bobby Ganser, who finished second at district (15:56.70). Colby Adams took 19th place (16:37.10), Stephen Ulrich placed 30th (16:52.24), Owen Pukys 47th (17:18.03) and Sam Chlebeck 49th (17:21.58).
“Ganser, who finished 18th at state last year, ran a consistent race,” Louisville coach Bob Sudimir said. “Adams is similar … Ulrich and Pukys close well. Chlebeck just loves to run and will do what is asked.”
The top eight teams advance to state and Sudimir envisions a competitive field.
“I think there are 10 teams fighting for eight spots,” he said. “The one thing we’ve done well as a team is run consistently well.”
Minerva, a young team, will be competing at Pickerington North after finished fifth at the Cambridge district.
Junior Connor Shingleton recorded the highest finish (9th) and best time (17:19.03) of any Minerva runner. Senior Ben Brady was 19th (17:42.42), sophomore Brandon Davis placed 22nd (17:48.07), freshman Owen Grubb 49th (18:48.80) and freshman Mason Steele 52nd (18:59.63).
“We have three freshmen [Grubb, Steele and Connor Norris] in our top six, so we’re really a young team,” Minerva coach Olivia Scott said. “We think Connor has a good shot at making state, and our goal is for him and the other runners to run their best times of the season.”
St. Thomas will be represented at the Boardman Division III boys meet by junior Joe Simonetti, who finished 16th (17:50.44) at the GlenOak district.
Scott is also coaching a Minerva girls squad that has made the state meet the last five seasons and took a gigantic step toward making a return appearance with a dominating first-place effort at the Cambridge district, scoring 28 points and easily defeating runner-up Sandy Valley, which scored 122 points.
Sophomore Hera Hoffee won the race (19:16.69) and was one of six Minerva runners who finished in the top 10. Senior Aubrey Dunham was fourth (19:44.01), junior Jenna Cassidy placed sixth (20:02.96), with sophomore Tori Dunham (20:15.97), sophomore Caitlyn Hopple (20:26.80) and junior Madeline Crissman (21:12.69) placing eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.
“We have dedicated runners who work hard and push each other to get better,” Scott said.
Minerva needs to finish in the top seven to earn a state team berth, but the competition is expected to be fierce.
“Granville is the third-rated team in the state,” Scott said. “Bexley and Buckeye Valley also have good teams.”
Since it earned the seventh and final regional-qualifying position at the GlenOak district, Marlington also will face stiff opposition at the Boardman Division II meet.
Sophomore Bella Graham, who captured the individual district championship (18:38.54), leads a youthful team that also consists of classmate Claire Cox, who placed 19th at the district meet (20:56.55); freshman Stella Blake, who was 35th (22:01.53); freshman Mahlen Lambdin, who finished 70th (24:31.54) and freshman Kendra Scott, who placed 78th (25:54.73).
“We had some great efforts at the district,” Marlington coach Molly Middleton said. “Kendra ran a personal-best time, Bella and Mahlen were close and Claire ran a much faster time than she did at the EBC meet. Each runner has a different approach, but they have the same goal and that is to run hard and close strong.”
St. Thomas Aquinas is looking for a strong showing in the Division III girls race from sophomore Elissa Nocera, who placed 12th in the district meet at GlenOak (21:43.42).
Qualifiers will compete at the state meet in a new location, Memorial Park/Fortress Obetz in Obetz, a village in Franklin County southeast of Columbus.