While the Mount Gilead cross country and track programs have both fielded a number of great teams over the years, one thing had eluded the Indians: a state championship.
The boys’ cross country squad had finished second in both 2019 and 2021, while recording a number of other high finishes in the state meet over the years. The girls’ cross country team also had a lot of state meet success — including a second-place team finish in 2017. The girls’ track team also took second in the state meet in 2021, with Mount Gilead cross country runners accounting for all 42 of their points.
That championship drought came to an end Saturday at Fortress Obetz when a dominating showing in the Division III boys’ race gave Mount Gilead their first state title. The Indians played the role of front-runners, running at the front of the pack early on — a strategy that paid off in the end. MG finished with 82 points, which was 69 points better than second-place Ottawa Hills.
“it was a good day,” said Indian coach Jake Hayes. “We’ve had a lot of drama-filled state days. We just wanted one day where everything goes smooth and with the exception of how slowly the results came up at the end, it was as drama-free as you could hope for.”
Three of MG’s runners both were All-Ohioans and also placed on the post-race podium. Sophomore Will Baker took 10th in the race with a time of 16:16.9, while junior Parker Bartlett ran 13th in 16:20.2 and senior Reed Supplee finished 14th in 16:24.8.
“We really tried to get out strong,” said Baker. “It worked out really well. Our top three guys are obviously in the top 20 and we did really well working together as a team.”
Bartlett noted that losing to Ottawa Hills earlier in the season lit a fire under the Indians, as the team had its sights set on being tops in Division III this year.
“Before meets started, at cross country camp, our entire team sat around for about an hour and talked about what we wanted to do. We raced Ottawa Hills earlier in the season and they beat us. That was a wake-up call.”
Hayes felt that having a team that motivated to do what is necessary to be champions made his job an easy one this year.
“They’re the easiest group of kids to coach,” he said. “We talked in July about what it was going to take to be on the top of the podium. It’s the little stuff. We do the little stuff better than most people. They just do everything they’re supposed to.”
After the performance of the top three, Mount Gilead’s fourth and fifth runners made sure that no other team would be able to catch them. Aaron Gannon came close to All-Ohio status by placing 37th in 16:47.2, while Owen Hershner took 73rd in 17:21.2. Also, Nathan Smith finished 174th in 19:16 and Gage Baker ran 182nd in 19:49.6. Supplee said that he had faith that Gannon and Hershner would do their jobs.
“I trust Aaron,” he said. “He’s a great runner — an amazing runner – and amazing person. Owen, I don’t know so much, but I was also that freshman running at state. I wasn’t the fifth guy, but I knew he could do it. He has a great brother, Cole, and I know he led him into state really well.”
Hayes felt his team’s depth has been on display all season.
“It’s awesome to get here and have that depth,” he said. “It stinks for our guys. you can be somebody who’d be a top five scorer on other teams. and you’re 12th at Mount Gilead. There’s a lot of selfless kids who were here today. I told them after the race, ‘You guys are state champs, too.’ In practice, the slowest guy pushes the next guy who pushes the next guy and it trickles on up.”
For Mount Gilead, the key was to control nerves and run like they’ve run all year.
“We just tried to stay relaxed,” said Baker. “We’d run 12 meets and if we go out and do what we’ve done all season, we’ll be all right.”
Bartlett noted that, throughout the season, Hayes has preached to not be nervous, but to be excited.
“At the beginning of the year, we had a really young team with a lot of kids who were coming up,” he said. “There was a lot of nerves going around, which is understandable, but we don’t like to focus on nervousness and we just turn it into excitement.”
The end result was the program’s first state title after so many close calls — something that wasn’t lost on Supplee, who ran on both of those two second-place teams.
“It feels amazing to be part of that team and finally do it,” he said. “About getting second place twice over my career, obviously it doesn’t feel great being so close. But to finally do it, I’m super-excited.”
And in the case of Hayes, relieved. After those close calls, the coach really wanted his athletes to break through.
“The disappointing thing is that it doesn’t feel different,” he said. “I was standing out there and we won and I was thinking I thought it would feel cooler. I stopped feeling sick to my stomach. That’s the best thing. These kids have worked so stinking hard. It’s been a bunch of people over the last five years. It means a lot.”