By Ken Silva
The J.B. Firestone Invitational will host three county teams Saturday at 10 a.m. that all have the same goal.
Black River, Buckeye and Highland are scheduled to part i c i p a t e, and are all looking to come away with a win.
“We’re pretty comparable teams,” Highland boys coach Josh Victor said. “It should be interesting.”
In the boys meet, the Bucks look to be the favorites. They have beaten last year’s champions, the Pirates, in every meet this season and appear to have more firepower than the Hornets, who have struggled in their last two meets.
Buckeye No. 1 runner Ryan Gallagher will battle the Pirates’ Jared McFadden and the Hornets’ Stuart Arbuckle and Zach Davis for the individual crown. Gallagher has the best time of the four runners (16:36).
In the girls meet, the Hornets have the most talent. After finishing second to Keystone last year, they have added juniors Natalie Zidd, Riley Stewart, Meredith Taylor and Gabrielle Perkins and freshman McKenna Stewart, who have all emerged as solid varsity runners.
Zidd looks like the favorite to win, but could face competition from Keystone’s Brittany Gates, who was last year’s winner, or the Bucks’ ever-improving Emma Franz.
The boys’ solid sixth-place finish at the Galion invitational looks even more impressive considering their week leading up to the meet.
Coach Adam Laskos put his boys through one of the toughest weeks of practice in the season, yet still received career performances from Augustine Kazek (17:17) and Tom Ziebro (17:38). For the girls, Angie Kazek (23:07) and Emily Doering (24:43) ran personal best times, while Jenna Periandri made a successful return after sitting the entire season with a foot injury.
The junior ran second for the Pirates in a time of 23:18.
After beating Hudson by two points at Saturday’s Boardman Invitational, Brunswick’s girls look to be an early favorite for the Northeast Ohio Conference championship.
This Saturday’s Strongsville Invitational will be another test, as the Blue Devils will compete against division rivals Hudson, Lakewood, Medina and Solon. The boys team had one of its best performances of the season Saturday. Despite an off day from All-Gazette honorable mention Nathan Geiss, Brunswick was able to pack together for a fourth-place finish in a competitive field.
“I was even more impressed with my boys than I was with my girls,” coach Kerry Hunter said. “If Nathan Geiss ran his usual race, there’s no telling what we could’ve done.”
If the boys want to win their first invitational of the season Saturday, they will have to do so without the help of Brad Shook.
Shook had been the third or fourth man on varsity for the entire season, but is battling mononucleosis and will sit out the J.B. Firestone Invitational.
• Senior Dan D’Amico had the best race of his life Saturday at Galion, finishing 36th with a time of 17:36.
• Coach Shirley Van Epp is looking for more consistency from her girls.
“Our heads just weren’t in the game at Galion,” she said. “We’ve been training well, but we’re just not bringing it to the meets. It’s been frustrating.”
Emma Franz (22:11) and Trisha Widenmeyer (22:47) ran personal records at Galion.
Saturday is the 39th annual Colt Pack Invitational, and coach Mellissa Evert plans on the meet being a success.
“We’ve had enormous help from parents and other volunteers,” she said. “The course is on track for Saturday and is looking smoother than ever.”
The meet starts at 8 a.m., with 14 races scheduled for the day.
• Paul Hissong ran a personal record 18:44 to lead the boys at Galion. Janelle Shaffer ran a season-best 21:26 to pace the girls.
Girls coach Devin Lippincott acknowledged his team has a chance to win its first invitational Saturday, but said it was not a focal point in this week’s preparation.
“We’re still training hard,” he said. “All our goals are aimed toward the end of the year.”
David Knack had an off day at Galion. After running a 15:57 and leading the Bees at Tiffin, he ran a 16:19 to finish fourth on the roster. Coach Milt Placed reasoned that Knack had sore legs after running what Place called “some of the best intervals in this program’s history” last Tuesday and Thursday. Brad Palocko (16:12), Tommy Menyes (16:20), and Robert Robinson (16:27) ran personal records to make up for the struggling Knack.
• Freshman Tessa Dombi rolled her ankle during Saturday’s girls meet and did not finish.
Coach Phil Brewer expects her to be ready for the Strongsville Invitational.
After running four meets in 14 days, the Grizzles will get a much-needed day off Saturday.
The break could not have come at a better time, as boys No. 3 runner Nathan McDevitt is nursing a sore calf. The inexperienced girls team could also use the extra time to tune-up for the fast-approaching postseason.
Contact Ken Silva at email@example.com.