Youth was served for the Mount Gilead cross country program Saturday at the state cross country meet.
Competing in the Division III races at Hebron National Trail Raceway, MG’s girls’ team, consisting of one junior, two sophomores and four freshmen, got the school’s best ever finish at state, finishing in second place and walking away with a trophy. A couple hours later, the boys’ team, consisting of four juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, finished in sixth place, giving them hopes of duplicating the girls’ feat next year.
The only team the girls couldn’t outrun was that of a powerful Minster squad, who blew away the opposition with a mere 34 points. MG took second with 131, which put them seven points better than third-place McDonald.
“On paper, we definitely could run with anyone, but we had to show up and do it,” said head coach Dennis West. “Congratulations to Minster — they definitely stepped up.”
The Indians took second in big part due to the efforts of their top two runners, who both earned podium finishes. Sophomore Baylee Hack finished third in 18:55.1, while freshman Allison Johnson claimed fifth in 19:07.3.
For Hack, a disappointing 43rd-place finish as a freshman proved to be all the motivation she needed.
“I learned from last year that I needed to go out faster,” she said. “My goal was to get in the top three today, so I’m excited. It was a really good race.”
After last year, Hack said she realized that at the state meet, time is less important than place.
“I wasn’t really going for time, I was going for place,” she said. “I always write out my goals and didn’t even write a time goal today.”
With four freshmen on the team, she noted that she was able to help the younger runners know what to expect at National Trail.
“I told them it’s like any other race and don’t be nervous because my nerves got me last year and I got 43rd, which disappointed me,” she said. “It was actually good for me this year. We have a lot of supporters and that helps with nerves. I’m really happy. My goal is to win it next year, but I’m really happy to improve 40 spots.”
In her first appearance at state, Johnson was able to fall back on a successful middle school running career, which included two middle school state titles.
“In middle school, having a state championship with those girls, I was glad to be back with that team,” she said. “There was a lot of training and effort put into this — it’s amazing. I had a goal of being in the top seven. I’m proud of it.”
Olivia Millisor took 64th for the Indians in 20:25.2, while Micah James was 72nd in 20:31.4 and Emily Hanft placed 86th in 20:44.1. Also, Madison Fitzpatrick took 159th in 22:20.5 and Selia Shipman ran 164th in 22:38.9.
West noted that his runners’ work ethic played a huge role in their success, saying that his freshmen worked hard to make the adjustment from two-mile races to the 3.1 miles they run in high school. He added that having a lot of tough competition in the area doesn’t hurt.
“North Central Ohio is kind of being more of a mecca to run in,” he said. “Our conference is as tough as anything. In the last three or four years, you might be ranked in the state, but have three or four other teams in the conference there.”
The boys’ team was also able to boast a podium finisher, as Liam Dennis finished in 15th place with a time of 16:23.1. The sophomore, who was in 23rd place after two miles, had a lot of motivation to move up over the remainder of the race.
“I heard people saying places and knew I was in 23rd,” he said. “I knew I had to get to the top 20.”
Much like Hack, Dennis was hoping to improve over his freshman year performance, when he took 61st. To do so, he had to endure sloppy course conditions; however, he noted that situation didn’t bother him mentally.
“I got slid a couple times and was tripped up,” he said. “That’s just stuff to work through. Everybody has the same conditions. This week was easier than last (regionals at Pickerington) — everyone was running in the same conditions.”
With everyone coming back, Dennis is hoping for an even better finish next year.
“We’re not losing anyone from the varsity,” he said. “I’m hoping to come back and next year, we’ll be aiming high.”
For the Indians, who only finished behind champion East Canton, as well as McDonald, Columbus Academy, Leesburg Fairfield and Liberty Center in the 20-team race, Casey White took 40th in 16:49.3, while Brett Shipman took 87th in 17:19.6 and Ethan Supplee ran 97th in 17:32.6. Kyle White finished right behind him, taking 99th in 17:33.2, and Brandon Stevens was 152nd in 18:29.6. Trevor Ball rounded out MG by finishing 170th in 19:03.5.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS