The East Canton boys cross country team came into the Div. III state cross country meet with some pretty lofty expectations. The Hornets, donning their platinum hair and Pacmen jerseys, had to stare down a challenge from a pair of mighty programs in McDonald and Columbus Academy.
But when the final numbers were tallied following the Div. III race at National Trail Raceway in Hebron on Saturday, Nov. 4, the Hornets were the ones standing on the podium as this year’s champions.
East Canton was the cream of the crop for area teams as the school followed up its OHSAA track and field title last spring with an encore performance that saw them remain calm, bide their time and make their move over the final mile of this state meet.
Senior Gabriel Jones said this was a dream come true for the Hornets, and it was something they had their eye on from day one.
“We knew all season that we were looking for this moment on this day,” Jones said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but once we got here, we had to stay focused on running our race, and we had to run through the emotions of this day and stay calm. Look where we are now, state champs.”
In a tight battle, East Canton totaled 120 points, edging McDonald’s 140 and Columbus Academy’s 144. McDonald in particular was the team to beat, the program having tallied 27 state appearances and having missed the state meet only once since 2000. In addition McDonald has racked up five titles and seven runner-up trophies, so defeating them was a huge deal for East Canton.
East Canton was making its 19th appearance at state and won its only previous state crown in 1998, having also added three runner-up finishes.
Fellow senior Tony Cappillo shared tears of joy with teammates, family and friends as they celebrated the victory following the race.
“This is amazing. We have been working toward this goal all season,” Cappillo said. “After four years we are finally able to call ourselves state champs.”
East Canton pulled off the win by being patient. Cappillo said they are taught to be patient for the first mile and then race from there. They did, and it paid off, especially for sophomore Demetrius Snellenberger, who peeled off a tidy 16:12 to earn fourth place overall and a nice spot high atop the podium where he celebrated his All-Ohio berth.
For the Smithville Smithies, a pair of All-Ohio efforts from Lucas Clark and Justin McKeal were good enough to push them to a 12th-place finish as a team.
Tusky Valley’s girls had some big expectations on the heels of what was a really big year for them. However, the Trojans didn’t finish the way they had hoped, leaving them wanting more next season with everyone back except for senior Emma Potts. That includes Madisan DeBos, who placed fourth overall.
“That finish is a little disappointing because we were hoping to do quite a bit better, but we should have every opportunity to return next year a little stronger and a little wiser,” Tusky Valley head coach Sandy DeBos said.
The Garaway Lady Pirates competed in the Div. III race, and even though they didn’t fare well, placing 19th out of 20 teams, they did get a bright spot from senior Jocelyn Miller, who finished 21st, earning All-Ohio honors. Senior teammates Claudia Miller and Lindsey Goehring also have been a part of four sensational Lady Pirate teams, three of which have qualified for state.
Lady P’s head coach Luke Immel said the experience for his young team members, which included sophomores Mallory Millet, Bethany Rider and Rylee Wilhelm along with freshman Lauren Goehring, will go a long way in preparing them for the future.
“Experience is everything,” Immel said. “We had a great group of seniors who helped lead, and they helped build team chemistry. They understand what it takes to get to the level and compete, and this is a great experience for our younger kids. They have shown a willingness to lead day in and day out, and hopefully their leadership and the success they experienced this year will carry over and help them to develop leaders down the road.”
The Dover girls also found the going tough in the muddy, sluggish run. The Crimson Tornadoes placed 17th in the Div. II race. They did get a very good effort from sophomore Erin Smith, who placed 57th overall, and freshman Grace Nolen, who was 68th in the field of 179 runners. With only two seniors, Dover has some big expectations coming into next season. This marked the program’s 21st state appearance with Dover having earned a pair of runner-up titles.
Individually, Fairless junior Ella Pumneo placed 44th overall in Div. II in 19:26.0.