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Sunday, October 29, 2006

OAC Championships, High School Regionals

Yesterday was the OAC Championships hosted by Heidelberg College. I tried to write a post this morning but Blogger had some problems.

The Site
Tiffin annually hosts one of the nation's largest high school cross country meets, the Tiffin Carnival, at Hedges Boyer Park. I was surprised to find that Heidelberg's home course is not at Hedges Boyer, and in fact the OHSAA regional competition would be going on there at the exact same time!

The course was at Clinton Heights Golf Club. This being D-III, I expected a country club. Instead, I drove up and saw this:
It's rural northwest Ohio, and therefore without pretension. I like it. It obviously had once been a farm; it's mostly flat and open with one creekbed offering a small amount of roll. The course itself is a double loop mostly around the perimeter of the golf course.

The Conditions
They were about as unpleasant as you can get around here. Days of rain had totally saturated the ground. Temperatures were just above 30 with steady 20-25 mph wind. It rained on and off, and at one point we had hail. I would have much preferred everything frozen instead of wet.

The Men's Race

A thread on Let's Run discussed the favorites, but we got a preview three weeks ago at the All-Ohio championships. The polls would have you believe Mount Union was going to win in a walkover, and they did beat Ohio Northern at the All-Ohio meet by 18 points. Heidelberg was next, with the rest of the OAC well in arrears. There would have been little reason to expect otherwise.

Scott Lasch of Heidelberg took an early lead. Here he is at 1 1/2 miles:
Following him, it looked like Mount Union had things well in hand:
The next time I saw them come by, just past 4 miles, things were radically different. Lasch was fallnig back as heavy favorite Jeremy Velliquette of Mt. Union moved up to the front.
More interestingly, Mt. Union's pack had fallen apart, with their fifth man well back, and Ohio Northern's runners were moving up. It looked like their first four runners were doing well enough to hold on to the title, but there was still almost a mile of running left. The title was up for grabs.

At the finish, Velliquette won relatively confortably with ONU's Paul Lewis running very well for second.Heidelberg went 3-4, Mt. Union took 5-6, and then came the Polar Bears with 8-9-11-12, broken up only by Mt. Union in 10th. Two more ONU runners crossed the line before Union's fifth man did.

ONU track coach Brian Cole started adding up the numbers, and had 41 for Mt. Union to 42 for Ohio Northern. XC coach Jason Maus told him to add it again. But it was right, and the Crusaders held on for the narrowest of wins. ONU put seven runners in front of everyone else's fifth, and Cole admitted there was nothing more his men could have done.

The Women's Race
As eventful and unpredictable as the men's race was, the women's was just the opposite. ONU was a heavy favorite and their title was never in any real doubt. Somewhat surprising was how the individual title played out, as Otterbein's Melinda Keesee took an early lead and was never pressed. Three weeks ago at All-Ohio, ONU's Darci Walthew was easily the top D-III runner, handily beating Keesee.
The difference? I don't thik it's a briliant job of peaking by Otterbein's coach and a poor one by ONU's, but rather succombing to the elements. Walthew is what Lydiard called a "driver", a muscular and powerful runner who pushes off the gound very hard rather than seeming to float over it. Such runners do well on the track or road, but are severely hampered on soft surfaces. Yesterday's race was through deep mud, and Walthew's strength could not be put to use.

The High School Meet
I hightailed it across town to see what remained of the high school regionals. The upset of the day was in the Division I girl's race. Bowling Green High School is the two-time defending state champions, ranked #1 in the state, and were not expected to be challenged at all yesterday. They finished third and were a mere 14 points away from being eliminated from state competition. #4 runner Shannon Titus was resting a sore leg (and strangely, she was not replaced as the Bobcats only ran six girls), but even with her in the mix they would barely have won the title over an unranked team. Things do not look good for a third consecutive state title.

The story of the day, however, was in a race I missed. Local runner Corey Johnson of Eastwood High School was a shoo-in to qualify to the state meet. That was before Monday, when he suffered a "severe injury" to his left thumb in an Industrial Arts class. (No real details were given, but reading between the lines it appears very bad.) On Wednesday he underwent surgery on the thumb and on Friday tried to run but the pain almost knocked him off his feet. He ran in yesterday's deplorable conditions and was nearly taken away in an ambulance.
He finished the race. Three places shy of a state berth. We wish him well on his recovery, and we know he will be a great collegiate runner.

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