While they Mount Gilead cross country team wasn’t able to defend its OHSAA Division III boys’ state title on Saturday, they were able to etch their names in history again.
The Indians (128 points) narrowly finished second to Columbus Grove (122) by a six-point margin at Fortress Obetz. In the past three years, Mount Gilead has finished their season on the podium, placing second in 2021 before winning their first team title last year.
“Obviously, you’re a little bummed when you get second,” said head coach Jake Hayes. “I guess it’s kind of a statement to where the program is at when you can come and get second at a state meet and everyone is a little bummed about it. I thought the guys ran really well. I thought everyone pretty much came out and did what they needed to do today. You run the state meet 10 times and you’re going to have a different winner most of the time. Today, Columbus Grove was a little bit better and they got the state title.”
Three of Mount Gilead’s runners earned All-Ohio recognition. Junior Will Baker ran at the front of the pack most of the race and finished fourth in 15:45.2. Also reaching the individual podium was senior Parker Bartlett, who took 17th place with a time of 16.14.9. Sophomore Owen Hershner ran 22nd with a time of 16.22.1.
Baker noted that he tried to keep up with the leaders, but lost the top couple runners in the final mile.
“I was super-happy with it,” he said of his race. “I put myself in position with the top guys and they kind of ran away from me that last mile, but I’m super-happy with how I competed with them. It was difficult, especially with that hill back there. Those guys up there were getting faster and faster. It’s a big mental thing.”
Bartlett also was happy with his race, noting that he was able to earn his second All-Ohio finish despite not having a great start.
“I didn’t get out as well as I wanted, so I wasn’t in the place I wanted to be at the mile,” he said. “Everybody just burst out a bit at the mile, so I kind of took my chance to make some moves and it worked out really well.”
Junior Tommy Emberg finished 95th in 17:27.8 and sophomore Nolan Hershner placed 107th in 17:37 to round out the team’s scoring runners. Hayes noted that this was the first state meet experience for both runners, adding that they did a good job of moving up as the race progressed.
“I was really proud of the way they handled it,” he said. “One of the things we really focused on with the kids is keeping your composure. It’s going to be chaotic and we know that and it’s hard to emulate this during the regular season. I thought they handled it well. They kept their composure. When they came through after the 400, my four and five were like 20 places from last, so I was like, ‘Oh, gotta get moving up here.’ They kind of just took a breath and got to work and I thought they navigated the pack pretty well.”
Senior Nathan Smith ran 137th in 18:10.8 and senior Collin Gabriel ran 180th in 19:27.3 to round out the Indian runners.
Hayes noted that his athletes will use their second-place finish as motivation for next year.
“It’s nice to get second and still be up there and have kids a little disappointed that it’s not first,” he said. “It adds a little fuel to their fire. We’ll get back to work and keep building. It’s been nice to have some success as of recently. It’s a testament to the kids that we’ve got and their families and the community.”
Baker, who has been part of a top-two team in the state in each of his three years with the program, agreed that the Indian program is in a great place right now.
“I’m super proud of my guys,” he said. “They did really well — all of them — and I love them to death. They came out here and I know each and every one of them ran with as much passion and heart as any one of them. I can’t be more proud of them. It’s absolutely a terrific program our coaches and guys are creating. A great atmosphere to run fast when it matters.”
Northmor Golden Knights
Northmor had two of its boys compete in the Division III state meet.
Senior Ryan Lehman closed out his cross country career with the Golden Knights by earning All-Ohio status by finishing 30th. He crossed the finish line in 16:25.9. David Blunk also ran as a sophomore and took 89th place in 17:24.3.
Mount Gilead girls
Mount Gilead junior Kimberly Staley competed in the Division III girls’ cross country meet on Saturday.
Running as an individual, Staley took 95th place in the race with a time of 20:32.4.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS