HEBRON - The McDonald boys cross country team went through the gamut of emotions Saturday.
The Blue Devils have downplayed they were the defending Division III state champions all season, in fact deferring to other teams around the state like nearby Maplewood, Seneca East and Garaway leading up to the race.
Soon after the Division III state meet, it seemed as if McDonald surprised even themselves by all running personal bests.
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
New London's Jonathan Albright, right, and McDonald's Bobby Johnson race in Saturday’s state cross country meet.
At first glance, it seemed the Blue Devils would repeat as state champions. Then, reality set in as McDonald came to grips with Seneca East edging them by six points, 101-107.
It was seventh time McDonald finished as runners-up, but it was hoping to grab the school's seventh state title.
"We did what we wanted to do as a team. We did," McDonald coach Chris Rupe said. "We ran as well as we could run and they beat us. How can you go from so excited one minute, because you ran so amazing. And it's not right to be disappointed by getting second. One minute you're so happy you ran that well. Then, when the point total comes out, you had a team that ran better. They deserved to win. We get to climb up on the steps and get a trophy for the third year in a row.
"Everybody on the team ran a personal records, some of them by 20-30 seconds. We ran what we need to. It wasn't quite enough on this day. Seneca East is a very, very good team."
This was Seneca East's first state championship after putting a string of four straight runners-up finishes in the mid 1990s.
"It's exciting for them," Rupe said. "It is. I would've like it to be us, but I'm excited for them too."
Garaway was third (125), Maplewood was fourth (132) and Cincinnati Summit Country Day was fifth (136). The top four teams are all-Ohio, while the top 25 individuals get the same honors.
It wasn't the place Maplewood was expecting, but it did some good things well Saturday, coach Dave Deeter said.
South Range's Tim Nichols was 12th, while Maplewood's Wyatt Hartman took 18th and Maplewood's Solomon Yoder was 21st.
"We had some awesome individual races," Deeter said. "Solomon Yoder just stepped up for us and ran fantastically. Tristan Dahmen popped off and ran through a ton of people. We just didn't put it all together."
Maplewood did make its goal of top four, making the school's hall of fame.
"We had a couple of good races that we can build on for next year," Deeter said.
Versailles's Samuel Prakel edged out St. Thomas Aquinas' Cory Glines to win the D-III individual title, 15:16.62 to 15:20.66.
Independence's Kyle Polman (15:24.30), Tri-Village's Clayton Murphy (15:32.45) and McDonald's Bobby Johnson (15:39.45) round out the top five.
"It's a lot faster than I ever expected it to be, especially with the week (of rainy weather) and everything," Johnson said.
McDonald senior Patrick Kunkel took sixth (15:45.31).
He said his team didn't over-hype themselves this week.
"We never take anything for granted," Kunkel said. "We love it all. We love our community, our fans, our whole team, everything is great about it.
"We didn't have anything crazy this week because we didn't want to get too hyped up for today. Today is when he gave us his good speech and good motivation to really put it on the line."
This race was Kunkel's best state meet and best race ever by about 20 seconds.
"It shows how tough that kid is," Rupe said.
The rest of McDonald's top five (Allan Coviello, Tyler Smith and Zach Hawout) ran less than 17:10.
Smith said the leadership of Johnson and Kunkel was the key.
"Bobby and Pat are amazing," Smith said. "Seeing them in workouts in practice, seeing them fly through everything. They pick us up and encourage us to do the best that we can. It's just been a heckuva time with them."
In the end, it was McDonald was happy with its runners' performances, but disappointed with the final result.
"There's so many good things that happened," Rupe said. "I'm sad that we didn't win, but so excited for those guys. I think we're all shaking our head. How can you run that well and not win? It's just says how good Seneca is. That's all."