** Photos by Alison Miller
“Not this year.”
Those were the words West Holmes junior cross country star Michelle Hostettler said as she cruised through the woods with 800 meters to go in the Pickerington Div. II regional cross country meet Saturday, Oct. 31.
Last year, those evil woods seemed to swallow Hostettler up as she raced around the tough course at Pickerington High School. She went in leading by seven seconds, looking for all the world like she was on the verge of winning the race.
She never came out.
“Not this year.”
Hostettler went into the woods with that same lead, or even a little more, and emerged on the other side unscathed, flying across the finish line in 18:49.5 to capture her first regional title. That time was 10 seconds head of runner-up McKenzie Davis of Sheridan.
“Michelle ran a very smooth, smart race,” said West Holmes coach Kevin Beachy. “She ran easy for the first two miles, settling in at second and third at times, and then after that she said goodbye to the rest of the field and cruised. She really held back and showed a lot of maturity.”
Beachy said last year’s catastrophic event, that saw Hostettler pass out from dehydration in the woods, served as a simple reminder that the ultimate goal is to simply make it to state.
“We learned a little bit from last year, but we wanted to be cautious in this race, and she ran it perfectly,” said Beachy.
Hostettler is entering state with the fourth best time, behind a trio of runners that includes Lexington powerhouse Dominique Clairmonte, who led Lady Lex to the Tiffin regional title, and Alters’ Abby Nichols, who won the Troy regional, as well as Oakwood’s Mary Kate Vaughn, who returns from two injury-marred campaigns after winning the state as a freshman.
“Michelle is primed to make a run at this thing, and she is as confident as she has ever been,” said Beachy.
West Holmes freshman Erin Norman, making her first appearance at regionals, ran a solid race, placing 60th in 21:31.9. Lady Knights senior Amber Murphy gave a valiant effort in trying to complete the race while battle a leg injury, but was unable to finish.
“Amber gave it her best shot but simply couldn’t go,” said Beachy. “She has had a great career. Erin really showed us a lot this year. She has had a taste of success, and I think she will really work hard in the offseason and winter season to get better. She has a great example on how to work hard in Michelle.”
West Holmes junior Vinny DeFelice represented the Knights, and while he qualified for state last year, he was unable to duplicate that task this time around, but for good reason.
DeFelice finished 73rd in 18:13.5. However, the junior was battling a monster cough and respiratory illness, and had no pep to his step on this day.
“He was just too sick to run effectively,” said Beachy. “He has actually been sick and coughing ever since the OCC meet a couple weeks ago, and he hasn’t gotten better. That was his slowest time ever for us. You could see he was hurting. It’s too bad, because he worked hard all season to get back to state.”
Last year at the Pickerington regional, DeFelice ran 10th in 16:55. Any kind of slight improvement on that would have gotten him in again this year, but it was not to be.
Beachy said this year’s experience will only add to the resolve to return to state again next year as a senior.
“It will definitely motivate him for next year,” said Beachy.