TROY, Ohio — As Eaton coach Randy McKinney has preached to his runners all season, one point, one placement, can make all the difference in the world.
That lesson became reality at the OHSAA Regional Tournament as Eaton’s boys picked up two of the final three individual qualifying spots and the girls finished in third place by one point to secure a trip to the OHSAA State Cross Country Championships this weekend.
The D-II boys race began at noon with 99 runners representing 19 high schools, with only the top four team finishes and top 16 finishers qualifying for the state tournament.
46 degrees and windy at the beginning of the race, conditions were significantly better than last year’s muddy and rainy affair.
“I raced here last year and last year the weather was really bad,” Eaton sophomore Kolby Hamilton said. “It was a lot of rain, it was really muddy, and going into the race last year, we kind of thought we were gonna finish well, but we ended up finishing sixth, which wasn’t enough to qualify for state last year, which was a pretty disappointing end.”
Hamilton and Eaton senior Jack Bortel began mid-pack in the race, but by the time they got to the first mile, they had both moved up near 25th, running nearly step-in-step with each other.
“We knew we had to be top 16 to make it to state,” Hamilton said. “I think we were 24th and 25th place going into that first mile, and so we really started to pick it up and we just passed them one by one.”
The two Eagles moved up throughout the race, hovering around the top 16 as the first group approached the finish line.
“I feel like I did pretty good,” Bortel said. “It was definitely a hustle because of just how many people wanted the spots. We were prepared for that, but you don’t really know what it’s like until you’re in it and everyone’s just fighting for those spots.”
Bortel was the first to cross for Eaton, finishing 14th with a time of 16:58.80, followed just steps later by Hamilton with a time of 17:01.60, sneaking into 16th place, just over two seconds ahead of Mariemont’s Santi Biro (17:03.80) to take the last qualifying spot for the state championship.
“I’m just really glad all my hard work paid off, working out in the summer and all the running on Sundays to keep my legs in shape,” Hamilton said. “I’m just glad it really paid off.”
Bortel echoed Hamilton’s sentiment and said he is ready to see where the Eagles place at state.
“You know, I’m proud of our other boys too that haven’t weren’t able to make it,” Bortel added. “We’ve done some work this season, it definitely has paid off and I’m proud of us.”
McKinney said that Hamilton and Bortel have worked hard together.
“The whole team has made those two better,” he said. “This whole season long, their focus has been making the team better while making themselves better. That’s been the beauty of coaching that boys team. This is my 39th year and I’ve had a lot of fun with a lot of teams, but this group of boys has been a really special group because they’ve really worked hard.”
In the girls race, the qualifications for the state championships were harder to meet with only three teams and 12 individual qualifiers being accepted, so the margin for error was much lower.
With Oakwood and Waynesville expected to finish in the top two, it came down to either individual qualifiers or a two-team race for the third spot alongside Tippecanoe.
Eaton sophomores Kaili Hewitt and Lauren Guiley ran a strong first mile, up near the front of the pack within the top 10, but as the race progressed, they fell out of the top 12 and it became evident the Eagles would need a strong team finish to see their season continue on to the state championships.
Hewitt (20:27) and Guiley (20:43) were the first Eagles to cross the finish line at 18th and 25th, respectively, followed by sophomore Kiera Elliott (20:47) in 26th, sophomore Rylie Haynes (20:53) in 29th and freshman Cami McCloud (20:55) in 30th, all finishing within 32 seconds of each other.
Oakwood and Waynesville had already finished one and two, so the crowd waited with bated breath as live results came in, eventually revealing that Eaton had bested Tippecanoe for third place by one point, 108 to 109.
“We’ve lost and been that next team a point behind others several times in the past, but that’s a tight race,” McKinney said. “Tipp City’s a team that we’ve been, on paper, behind all year long. For the girls to step it up and beat them, that’s a great race.”
With the strong finishes for both of Eaton’s team, they’ll be represented proudly in Columbus this week as Hamilton, Bortel and the girls team look to make their mark.
“This can be a really tough course. It really can, just on so many levels,” McKinney said. “The nice thing is that all of them are back next year. Pressure’s off now. All we’ve got to do is go to Columbus and run our race.”
The OHSAA State Cross Country Championship races will be held at Fortress Obetz in Columbus. The D-II boys race will begin at noon with the girls beginning at 1 p.m.
Top five individual and team finishes, full county results:
1st — Kevin Agnew (Carroll), 15:50; 2nd — Kaden Harvey (Waynesville), 16:01; 3rd — Dylan Lauck (West Liberty-Salem), 16:01; 4th — Colin Amato (Waynesville), 16:30; 5th — Sam Beeler (Mariemont); 14th — Jack Bortel (Eaton), 16:58; 16th — Kolby Hamilton (Eaton), 17:01; 55th — James Baker (Eaton), 18:07; 57th — Cole Hauser (Eaton), 18:11; 69th — Bradley Gifford (Eaton), 18:28; 81st — Austin Kopf (Eaton), 18:54; 88th — Jaxon Roth (Eaton), 19:32.
Waynesville finished first with a 68, followed by Carroll (78), Mariemont (88), West Liberty-Salem (109) and McNicholas (155). Eaton finished eighth with a 194, one point behind Oakwood (193).
1st — Grace Hartman (Oakwood), 18:22; 2nd — Bella Butler (Oakwood), 18:40; 3rd — Hannah Moulton (Oakwood), 18:53; 4th — Audrey DeSantis (Springfield Shawnee), 18:57; 5th — Samantha Erbach (Waynesville), 19:12; 18th — Kaili Hewitt (Eaton), 20:27; 25th — Lauren Guiley (Eaton), 20:43; 26th — Kiera Elliott (Eaton), 20:47; 29th — Rylie Haynes (Eaton), 20:53; 30th — Cami McCloud (Eaton), 20:55; 58th — Stephanie Gibson (Eaton), 22:06; 60th — Ally Schmidt (Eaton), 22:16.
Oakwood took first with a 43, followed by Waynesville (47), Eaton (108), Tippecanoe (109) and Wyoming (137).
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles