Girard’s Basinger, other individual runners set for regional at Boardman

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Girard’s Derek Basinger, right, goes after a state qualifying spot on Saturday.

BAZETTA — Girard senior Derek Basinger spent most of the summer in limbo.

He suffered a stress reaction with a possible stress fracture in his left fibula. That meant no running for four to five weeks.

When this season started, Basinger had to slowly get back into shape. It’s been a long way back for the Indians cross country runner.

Last week, he finished fifth (17:25.70) in the Division II district meet at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds to advance to Saturday’s D-II regional at Boardman.

“Honestly when I got injured at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Basinger said. “I sort of assumed God had a plan for me. That included state or it didn’t. I leave it up to Him.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Cameron Palmer of Mineral Ridge will take aim Saturday at a spot in the state cross country meet.

“I did everything I could do to stay in shape. I swam for an hour every day. I biked all I could. I didn’t know how I was going to come back to running. I didn’t know if I was going to crack 18 in all honestly.”

He wasn’t the only one on the comeback trail.

Mathews senior Kenny Wallace, who was the Mustangs’ leading scorer in soccer, suffered what might have been a season-ending injury for some.

He suffered some minor tissue damage in his left knee during a mid-September soccer game. Wallace said the field was muddy. He planted his left foot, but his body kept moving forward.

It was finally determined he had a torn meniscus, on which he had surgery earlier this month.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Kevin Dubaj of Niles runs Saturday in the regional cross country meet at Boardman.

Wallace, who won the Billy Goat Challenge and the Oscar Grant Invitational to begin the season, was seen as one of the favorites in this area and in the state among Division III runners.

Last week, he finished fourth in the D-III District in 17:19.59 through a muddy course. He admits there were a few jitters taking off in the mud, thinking of his injury.

“Once I got going, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure behind us,” Wallace said. “I was able to set into a pace that I wouldn’t say I was comfortable with, but I got through alright.”

He’s just happy to be back running.

“This week is probably going to be the hardest week of my life,” Wallace said. “Most teams are probably taking it back a little bit to get ready for regionals. I’ve lost a lot of time here. Definitely a couple of workouts this week. I’ll be able to train for a solid week instead of being careful and running only three miles a day.”

The top 16 runners in D-III advance to state out of Saturday’s regional.

Mineral Ridge senior Palmer Cameron, who finished in 38th last year, is confident he can be among the 16. He said he’s seen the best and worst of the Boardman course, so weather won’t affect him.

“This year I’m hoping to go all in and get it,” Cameron said.

He isn’t the only one hoping to get through to state. Chalker senior Samuel Cain wants to get there as well.

Cain doesn’t train with a full team, but hopes his training can lead him through.

“I really don’t know what to expect, but thankfully I have (coach) Chip (Habosky),” Cain said.

Bristol freshman Matthew Church is the first Panther to make the regional since Andrew Swango finished in 20th place in 2004.

Bristol coach Mike Austin said students and his teammates, along with former runners, are all rooting for Church.

Austin said Church was injured earlier this season, but is feeling much better these days.

“This is the best shape he’s been in all year,” Austin said.

In Division II, where the top 24 runners move on to state, Champion senior Dylan McKean and sophomore Joe Abramavich advanced to the regional.

Their team didn’t make it, but McKean said the Golden Flashes have been a cohesive unit all season.

“You really wouldn’t get too far without them,” McKean said Saturday after the district race. “It means a lot to have them here.”

It means a lot for Niles junior Kevin Dubaj to be in Boardman Saturday after missing out on the regional last season.

He attacked the Trumbull County Fairgrounds course after one lap around. From there, he started picking off runners to take 10th place.

Dubaj has the same approach this Saturday.

“Run a lot like (Saturday),” he said. “Run a little bit early and have a kick at the end.”

Niles sophomore Hailey Zelinsky didn’t think she’d be back to the regional after her start this season.

Then, she finally broke 21 minutes at the Sim Earich and was in 10th place in the D-II district.

“I’m really grateful to go to regionals,” Zelinsky said.

She said she hopes the experience she had last year at the regional helps this season. Zelinsky was in 28th-place and  ran 20:23.51 in 2015.

“Hopefully, since I know that I can eventually get down to state,” she said.

Basinger’s goal is state, but he’s also happy to be running.

“To be where I am right now is a blessing. I’m extremely thankful,” he said.