Howland girls heading to regionals

BAZETTA — Robin Kapalko understood what kind of team she had this season, starting off as a new varsity girls country coach at Howland.

Being a former Tigers distance running standout, her dream was to take over the program one day.

She waited nine years as the Howland Middle School coach, taking it from 15 boys and girls runners to 47 last season.

The time was right and she made the transition into the varsity coaching.

With five of her top seven being freshmen, it seemed the team would have a long, learning season.

The Tigers proved this was not the case when they placed third at the Division II Trumbull County District meet and advanced to this Saturday’s Boardman Regional for the first time in school history.

The feat wasn’t a surprise to Kapalko.

“I guess I always believed in them,” she said. “I don’t know if they had the confidence in them I did at the beginning of the year.”

The turning point was the Oct. 1 All-American Conference Meet when the Tigers finished second.

She saw her team take 11th-place in the smaller school girls race at The Legends the following week, but saw times drop.

“I think they finally bought into all my nonsense, I guess, and realized we are good. We can do this,” Kapalko said.

The Tigers are led by freshman Maria Dellimuti, who took third in the Division II district.

She said the future is bright for the Tigers program.

“I want the eighth graders coming up to follow and believe,” Dellimuti said. “They need someone to push themselves. The young people we have, they’re going to keep getting better, which will allow the younger group to get ahead.”

How far can Howland go Saturday?

The top six teams and 24 runners advance to state. Three of the top 10 ranked teams in Division II are at Boardman.

“There’s clearly some top teams that are on their way to state,” Kapalko said. “There’s always that outside shot at that sixth spot. There’s lots and lots of contenders.

“I think it will be whoever has their ducks lined up in order, runs their best race — that’s who will go to state.”