By John Bombatch
HEBRON — While some area cross country teams came out of the National Trail Raceway starting gates running flat, and others were simply unable to overcome late-season injuries, the Xenia Christian girls contingent placed seventh in the state at Saturday’s cross country championships.
Rachel Sweeney turned in a personal-best time of 19:23.7 over the 5,000-meter (roughly 3.1-mile) distance to lead the Ambassadors with a 22nd-place finish.
“I feel really well about how I ran, I got a PR (personal record), but I kinda thought I was going to get into the top-16 — I was 16th until the last 800 meters. It was a good race,” Sweeney said.
Grace Norman finished 26th in her final high school cross country race. Norman was the first below-knee amputee to compete in the state championships last year as the result of the Xenia Christian team qualifying. She became the first to qualify on her own this year, after placing in the top 16 at the Troy regional. The future Team USA paralympian was all smiles after Saturday’s race.
“I’m sad that this is my last high school cross country race, but I was really really happy with how I ran,” Norman said. “I was happy with my team and how we all ran. The wind wasn’t strong, the temperatures were really nice. It was just a great end to the season. … Everyone did an amazing job. I’m so proud of each one of them.”
Ambassadors coach Robin Norman said the plan was to represent the little guy among the Division III schools.
“We’re probably one of the smallest schools here, and so I wanted us to go out and represent the small schools well. Nearly every one of our runners ran a personal-best time or came close to it, and so I think we did that today,” coach Norman said.
Other area teams didn’t fare as well on the National Trail Raceway dragstrip grounds.
Beavercreek’s Aislinn Fitzgerald and Lauren Shuman finished 37th and 40th respectively, but the Beavers team placed 14th out of the 16 qualifying teams. Fitzgerald had the team’s best time with a 18:58.3 while Shuman was in at 19:01.8.
In boys action, Carroll’s harriers were hampered by injuries and finished the boys Division II race 14th out of 16. Karl Grossman was the Patriots’ top finisher at 34th place with a time of 16:31.9. Coach John Agnew was understandably proud of how far his team went this season.
“We’ve had illnesses and injuries all season long, and we just battled the whole time in order to get here,” Agnew said. “Getting here was a huge accomplishment. We’re regional runners-up and this is the 19th team Carroll has sent to state, so that’s big. The tradition continues.”
Xenia Christian’s Isaac Erlundson was making his first run at the state championship level in Division III. While he finished 73rd, he said he enjoyed the experience.
“I was so nervous going into it. Wow, it’s a REALLY fast race. … But it’s just a really good experience to go out there and to be a part of it. To know that you’re running with the state’s best, it’s an honor,” he said. “We hope to have the whole team here next year, and I hope to place a lot higher then too.”
In the day’s final race, Beavercreek’s boys team ran flat. They finished 13th out of the 16 teams in Division I.
Junior speedster Ben Ewert placed 66th to lead the Beavers in a time of 16:23.9. Beavercreek coach Howard Russ said it was just one of them days.
“We came in here seeded 15th, and Ben was off today. We knew we’d have a top-10 if we had a good day,” Russ said. “Some guys ran close to their PRs (personal records), though. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to those who ran well. Hopefully we’ll learn from this and be back and ready to go next year.”
Norman, Fitzgerald and Bethany Lassen of Beavercreek, Carroll runners Luke Danis, Nikhil Sample, Kevin Sheedy and Ryan Wuebben, and Beavercreek boys harriers Trevor Louis, Aaron Shepherd, Colin Staten, Raul Varas and Roberto Vargas all saw their senior cross country careers come to an end on Saturday.