BOARDMAN - Allan Coviello started his senior season quite strong.
The McDonald High School boys cross country runner notched a solid seventh-place finish as the Blue Devils won their first-ever Billy Goat Invitational title in late August.
Things were rolling through September, but it came to a screeching halt midway through the month.
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
McDonald senior Allan Coviello has been struggling with back problems most of the season. Heading into Saturday’s state cross country meet, he’s starting to feel better.
Coviello's lower back tightened up. He struggled to get through the rigors of a 3.1-mile race, especially during the Sept. 14 Spartan Invitational in Boardman. He finished 24th in that race.
"It started getting really, really tight and it started shortening my stride," Coviello said. "I couldn't really get going, couldn't get my legs moving like I'd like to."
Would McDonald's streak of heading to state - one that's been intact since 1999 - be in trouble? Would Coviello's season come to an end?
McDonald coach Chris Rupe said it was disappointing for his senior runner.
"It's hard for seniors, when things aren't going the best; it's just such a downer," Rupe said. "There's a different kind of pressure and a different kind of feeling for seniors who are having a struggle because you feel stuff slipping away. You want to be there 100 percent with your team. When you can't be doing the best you'd like to be, and doing the best you can, it just adds a downer to it.
"I don't think it's a mental thing, but it becomes a very disappointing thing in this case for Allan. He loves his teammates and he wants to do anything he can for his teammates."
In the meanwhile, he remained in shape by riding a stationary bike and swimming to take the place of his running as his back bothered him.
"It felt really tight, like something was pulling on it," Coviello said.
He tried to make a comeback during the Inter Tri-County League Meet on Oct. 1 at McDonald's home course inside Woodland Park, which was unsuccessful.
Then, he made another attempt a couple days later at The Legends Meet at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.
"It got really tight and I couldn't really get it moving. I had to pull out of the race," he said. "My parents told me it was OK if I did. It really wasn't a big meet and my coach said the same thing, not to push it - just so I could finish the season strong."
Things turned around for the McDonald senior runner at districts, finishing 13th with 17:08.91.
"Even after districts, which I felt I had a pretty good race, I felt I was moving in a good direction with this," Coviello said.
He took 27th during regionals (17:20.56). More importantly, his team finished third with 99 points - qualifying for state for the 15th straight season.
"It bothered me some (last Saturday), but I feel I'm almost there. I should be good for next week. I'll be 100 percent," Coviello said.
It doesn't seem much should be standing in the way of Coviello being one of McDonald's mainstays this Saturday at the Division III state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
So far, there's a clean bill of health for Coviello.
"Last visit, they said everything was good," he said. "There's really nothing to worry about, just going to be some pain. I can't do any more damage. I can push through it. That's when I finally felt I was ready to go."
Rupe said his No. 2 runner had some trouble with a windy, cold and damp course at Boardman.
"He's fit, been very fit, put in a great summer of training. He's been hampered by some things with his back. It just tightens up at times in the middle of a race. He's 90 percent there. We need him feeling just a little bit better and hang in there the whole way.
"I think with the wind and the soft course, that made it a little bit tougher on him. We'll see what Allan Coviello shows up (Saturday)."