Enjoy the journey.
That was the message West Holmes cross country coaches Kevin Beachy and Michael Ewing wanted to share with senior Michelle Hostettler after the stellar senior finished sixth in the Div. II girls’ state cross country meet Nov. 5 at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Hostettler had high hopes of creeping up the podium on the heels of last year’s third-place finish, but a tremendous field of runners that included a group of nine girls were left chasing after eventual champion Leah Roter, who built a crazy-big lead early and altered the way the runners had to approach the race.
“It’s a great field, and we are talking about being upset about a sixth-place finish at state? That is an amazing feat, and even though Michelle had higher expectations, it is still something nobody at West Holmes has ever approached. She has had a brilliant career and when she looks back at things, hopefully she will just enjoy the journey that has made her West Holmes’ best-ever runner.”
Beachwood’s Leah Roter jumped out to a huge start and immediately put distance between herself and the field. After the first mile marker, she was holding steady, and in no way looked like she was going to fold. She didn’t and that made all of the contending field alter their plans.
“I thought about going out and running with her, but it was just way too fast of a pace and I would have burned myself out, “Hostettler said. “She was going to be at a 5:20 first mile pace, and that is too quick. I ran the race I think I should have run. I just adjusted and tried to settle in with the pack and run my race.”
For the most part, there was Roter and a breakaway pack that included Hostetler and Carrollton’s Maddie Dunlap. The pack tried in vain to track Roter down, and over the final mile, that pack began to spread out. Roter would win in a great time of 17:55. Annie Zimmer of Chagrin Falls made a move, taking over second place and finishing in 18:02. Ashley Rulison of Beaumont grabbed third at 18:09. Liberty Union’s Sydney Mangette, whom Hostettler beat at regionals, finished fourth in 18:14. Fifth went to Cloverleaf’s Riley Freeland in 18:15 and Hostettler crossed the line in 18:19.8, her best time of the season. A year prior, in finishing third, Hostettler had run an 18:19.5. Talk about consistency.
As a two-time top-10 placer at state, she accomplished a first in WHHS history, in addition to becoming the school’s first two-time All-Ohioan.
“I’ve had a great career, and I am happy with how I’ve done,” Hostettler said. “I never would have imagined what I’ve done back as a freshman. But expectations get high, and today was one of those days where I personally felt like I didn’t get what I wanted. But I am blessed to be able to be on the podium.”
Hostettler’s success is a textbook story for any youngster wanting to excel in any sport. She simply worked harder than anyone else, trained harder, and poured herself into a sport she grew to love.
“It is so much work, and you might think amazing (two All-Ohio trips), but if you saw all the work I put in, you’d understand that it isn’t so amazing,” Hostettler said. “It’s hard work and it takes a lot of time, but it is so worth it.”
As Hostettler left the track for the final time, she shared a long tear-filled hug with head coach Beachy. She did the same with Ewing, and the coaches know the kind of work ethic she has developed, how much she has sacrificed and how high she has set the bar for future generations.
“We’ve never had anyone like her,” Ewing said. “It’s easy to complain about sixth place because of what she did last year, but there isn’t a whole lot that separates second from sixth in this race. It almost comes down to what you have that particular day and how you’re feeling. A second off here or there and it makes that difference.”
“She is on a level we have never dreamed about,” Ewing said. “Emily Molnar was our first-ever All-Ohioan just three years ago, so to picture Michelle at the top of the podium is hard to imagine. Now, with her, you almost take it for granted, because she is such a special talent, and there isn’t one day or one finish that is going to change the incredible things she has accomplished in her career.”
For Hostettler, the idea that she has become the girl that youngsters want to emulate is something she will cherish, and she added some sage advice for those youth who want to feel the thrill of standing on the podium at state.
“If you want to be this good, you have to commit to it and work hard,” Hostettler said. “I’m sure there will be young girls in the future that will be just like me.”
Maybe so, but to accomplish that, it will take a huge heart and a monumental effort, full of commitment and work ethic.
As time wears on, Hostettler can look back, recognize the incredible amount of work and success she experienced, and she will enjoy the journey.