By Dave Mast
At one point in the Wayne-Holmes Cross Country Invite which took place Saturday, Oct. 5 in Orrville, the treacherous track came down a steep grassy hill, then took about a 110 degree turn and headed in another direction.
The winding course featured runners zig-zagging past one another on several different levels, and took many twists and turns throughout the race, which made for slow times and tough running.
The Hiland Hawks boys team managed to parlay their five-member team into a 10th place finish out of 12 teams, while the Lady Hawks sported just one runner.
“It was horrible,” said Nikita Engstrom of the Orrville course. “There was always a girl on your back, and people were packed together, so going around turns you were either going to get cut off or cut someone else off. It was really hard to get into any kind of rhythm.”
The track definitely took a toll on times.
Senior Darian Pacula ran an 18:19, well off of his best time and far short of the school record he is chasing. That time put him in 18th place overall. Creed Hochstetler (43rd) and Brady Conn (54th) both finished up in the front third of the runners, coming home in times of 19:54 and 20:10 respectively. Kyle Troyer raced to the finish line in 22:51, while Morgan Gingerich rounded out the team effort with a time of 24:20.
For the girls, Engstrom, the lone Hiland competitor, fared well, finishing in the middle of the pack in 25:02.
“Everyone’s times were well off of what they were used to running, but that was pretty common for the entire field,” said Hiland coach Mark Fowler. “I’d say on average runners were 35 to 40 seconds off of what they are used to running.
But it is kind of odd that Moran actually improved his time, so that was a positive.”
Fowler said that while the Wayne-Holmes Invite encompasses all of the schools from both counties, running in this event is more of an obligation for his team.
Because it runs in the Eastern District, none of the schools the Hawks will face all season, and especially in the District meet, run at the Wayne-Holmes.
And because of the severity of the track, the times are not really to building any kind of confidence, so it is not a race in which Fowler puts a lot of stock.
“This race is simply all about effort for the kids,” said Fowler. “We don’t have a lot to gain here, since we don’t run against any of these schools. We just have to go and give it our best effort, and not worry about results.”
Fowler said that Pacula is right where he needs to be to place himself in position to become the school’s all-time record-holder.
He also said that Conn continues to improve as he gains a sense of exactly how good he can be.
“He’s stepping up,” said Fowler of Conn. “He can be quite good at this if he dedicates himself to it.”