OBETZ, Ohio — Eaton cross country culminated its successful season with a 13th place finish for the girls team and top half finishes for both boys in the OHSAA D-II State Cross Country Championships at Fortress Obetz on Saturday, Nov. 7.
Beyond some practice in the week leading up to the meet, Eaton’s runners had no experience racing at Fortress Obetz which features some tight lanes and had unusually warm weather this time of year, with a temperature above 70 degrees for both races, well above the 40 and 50 degree weather during the District and Regional tournaments.
“For both the boys and the girls, when we’ve run all these meets this year, there’s 100 [runners], maybe 110 max,” Eaton coach Randy McKinney said. “Now we get to a meet where we had 150 plus on a course that has some tight spots. It’s highly competitive. That’s just a little different mindset.”
The girls, who qualified for the first time since 2012 and for just the fifth time in school history, finished 13th out of 20 teams with a team score of 319.
The Eagles had a gap of just 1:33 between their five scoring runners, the fifth best gap among the girls teams.
“With the girls, we came in rated 14th, finished 13th. For a team that had been rated 19th and 20th, if they were rated at all, great finish. Beauty with that group is they’re all back.”
Sophomore Lauren Guiley crossed the finish line first for the Eagles, earning a 59th place finish with a 20:06, followed seconds later by sophomore Kiera Elliot in 62nd with a 20:08. Sophomores Kaili Hewitt (101st, 20:42) and Rylie Haynes (116th, 21:13) as well as freshman Cami McCloud (132nd, 21:39) rounded out the top five for Eaton with sophomore Stephanie Gibson (150th, 22:30) and freshman Ally Schmidt (158th, 23:08) also turning in strong performances.
As a team, the Eagles flirted with a top 10 finish, sitting at 11th at the first mile split, but fell gradually at each remaining split, finishing 13th.
“The girls team did a great job,” McKinney said. “They’ve got a lot to be proud of. I just hope they take the next few weeks and then really reflect on what they’ve done. Because of their age, it’s going to take them a little while to really realize what they’ve accomplished.”
McKinney also commended senior Cari Metz who was not in Eaton’s top seven for the race.
“To be a senior, to be the alternate, that’s a tough spot to be in,” he added. “She stepped it up. She stayed positive, and she understood how important that alternate position was. I’m really proud of her for that. That’s a tough spot to be in as a senior, but I know she’s happy and she’s part of the reason that team’s here as are the other girls who weren’t here today.”
Senior Jack Bortel and sophomore Kolby Hamilton, who qualified individually for the boys at the OHSAA Regional Tournament, finished 60th and 81st, respectively, both finishes among the top half of the 168-runner field.
As per usual this season, Bortel and Hamilton ran step-in-step through the first mile, coming in at 75th and 76th at the first split, separated by just two-tenths of a second.
Bortel remained consistent through the next stretch, maintaining his 75th place as Hamilton lost some slight ground, falling to 82nd.
“I’d wish I’d ran a little bit better,” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t my best race, but at the same time, there’s a lot of people here. It’s tough to really compete with all these guys, but I was glad to be here.”
Over the last mile, Hamilton made up one spot to finish 76th while Bortel worked past 15 runners, moving up from 75th to his final place of 60th.
“I was glad to be here as well,” Bortel said. “Kolby has now learned what it’s like to be at the state meet and that competition. He’s going to build on that and I know he will. For me, I’m just glad that we were able to get this far with COVID and I was able to compete and run my race.”
Bortel has previous experience in the state meet while this was Hamilton’s first appearance. While it would be easy to treat the OHSAA Cross Country State Championships as a larger-than-life, Hamilton said they prepared like it was any other meet.
“We just tried to keep this week as normal as possible, just try to make it like any other meet,” Hamilton said. “Try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. At the same time, we understood the importance and I think were really glad to be here and also just wanted to compete.”
McKinney congratulated Bortel on a successful career and looks forward to what Hamilton will do in the future.
“With the boys, I’m really happy for them. There’s so many guys who would love to get here just one time in their career. Jack’s been here twice. Kolby, as a sophomore getting here the first time, there’s so much he learned. That was a very competitive field out there today.”
With this being one of the most unusual seasons that any coach or athlete has experienced, McKinney was happy to see hard work pay off for the Eagles.
“As soon as track season ends, these kids get after it and they get busy,” McKinney said. “They’re out there and they’re doing their conditioning, they’re doing their – not just their running, [but] the strength conditioning. That’s a long and a big commitment five days a week during the summer. It’s nice when you can see, and the kids can see, those things do pay off.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles