July 2, 2016

Mostly clear

Cross country: Highland girls are marvelous in the mud

SULLIVAN TWP. — It wasn’t automatic, but with Westlake opting out of this year’s J.B. Firestone Invitational, it pretty much cemented the Highland girls winning for the fourth straight time Saturday.

The Hornets outdistanced Keystone 42-67 to win over the 14-team field despite missing two regulars. A year ago, Highland barely squeezed past Westlake 30-32.

The Hornets placed their top five runners inside the top 13, led by freshman Jessica Bentley’s fourth place (21:13.67).

“It was very, very muddy,” Bentley said. “Our coach (Devin Lippincott) gave us half-inch spikes for our shoes. That made a huge difference. We were up to our ankles in mud in some of the wooded areas, so that was very helpful. Without them, I probably would have been face-planting in the mud.”

Heavy rains that started late Friday evening and continued through 11 a.m. turned the wooded areas and low areas of the course into a mud bath.

Highland was without No. 1 runner Carlee Rhodes, a sophomore who was out sick for the second straight weekend. Senior Maggie Christopher missed the meet because of ACT testing.

The Hornets rolled anyway.

Ariel Taylor (6th, 21:59.51), McKenna Stewart (9th, 22:21.88), McKenzie Gilbert (12th, 22:53.86) and Ally Gilbert (13th, 22:54.99) rounded out the top five.

“We like Black River. We’ve been coming here since we were Division II,” Lippincott said. “Sure, it’s great to win, but that’s not what it’s all about. We want to see the girls get better and better, plus pushing each other, and they did. We just tried to challenge these younger girls with our depth and say, ‘Hey, this is a chance to show what you can do. Be a warrior. Be tough.’”

Buckeye sophomore Colin Theis hadn’t raced at Black River since seventh grade. To avoid making a wrong turn, Theis hung with Elyria junior James Hawks through the first two miles before blowing open a huge lead and taking the race going away.

Theis clocked 16:49.85 to win it. Hawks, who was third last year in 17:07, finished second in 17:24.10. It was Theis’ second career win after taking the

Aug. 19 Keystone Icebreaker.

“(Hawks) knew how this course works,” Theis said. “I knew he’d be setting a good pace. Winning today is special. It feels great. It shows that some of the hard work is beginning to pay off because you’re giving it your best.

“Conditions were tough. There were a lot of places the water collected on the course that made it like a little stream. It was a good test. You never know what conditions will be. Yesterday it was sunny and hot. Within a day it changed. That affects the course.”

Theis’ performances keyed Buckeye’s second-place finish to Elyria, 83-113. The Bucks held off Fairview (118) and Mapleton (130) in the 15-team field.

Aidan Gallagher (13th, 18:35.17), Vincent King (25th, 19:16.89), Matt Shook (31st, 19:36.07) and Mike Keith (43rd, 20:10.92) rounded out the top five.

Sophomore Tanner Hawley was Black River’s top finisher, taking sixth (17:59.92) and less than three seconds out of the top five. A year ago, Hawley finished 39th (19:33.82).

“I feel that I attacked it pretty well,” Hawley said. “It was very muddy. It was definitely better last week (at Galion). I pretty much held my spot. I passed a few people, but I got passed back by the same ones.”

Contact Paul Heyse at sports@medina-gazette.com.