Rockets wind up 3rd in bid for 3rd

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Maplewood’s Nick Cowger comes down the stretch at Saturday’s Division III boys cross country state race in Hebron. Cowger’s 16th-place finish led the Rockets, who finished third in their bid for a third straight D-III state championship.

HEBRON — All that the Maplewood boys cross country team wanted was one more championship.

The Rockets came into Saturday’s Division III state meet at National Trail Raceway as one of the most storied programs in Ohio cross country history.

Seven state titles.

Two in just the last couple of years led by back-to-back first-place individual finishes by Youngstown State University freshman Tristan Dahmen. He and Allen Sparks, who is a cadet at the United States Military Academy, led the Rockets those past two titles.

With both graduated, expectations were still high for this always competitive program.

Allen’s younger brother Ethan, a junior, and seniors Michael Shipman, Jake Hall and Nick Cowger wanted to lead the Rockets back to the promised land — the team’s eighth state championship.

That would put the Rockets one behind a Caldwell program which dominated the late 1980s and early ’90s.

The day of reckoning came. At 11 a.m., the race began.

Maplewood came out in new navy blue uniforms with a simple powder blue CC in the middle with a rocket splitting through the two letters.

The Rockets did as their name implied and took an early lead after the first mile, ahead off Fort Loramie, St. Thomas Aquinas and Leesburg-Fairfield — all viable teams to win this year’s state title.

Eventually, the Maplewood team began to succumb to the field as Fort Loramie won its first-ever state championship with 97 points. Aquinas surged ahead of Maplewood for second, 120 to 125. Leesburg-Fairfield was fourth (169).

“A lot of our guys ran good today. Other teams just ran better,” said Cowger, who ran 16:17.8 and finished in 16th place.

He was the only Maplewood runner to earn all-Ohio honors and was on the podium. The top 20 made it there this year, a change from 15 in years past.

It was little consolation for the Maplewood senior.

“It’s nice, but I’d much rather have had a state title than an individual,” Cowger said.

The pain of the Maplewood runners coming across the line was more evident than the physical ailments found with most distance runners.

It was something these Rockets wanted so desperately.

Maplewood was ranked No. 1 all season in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches state poll.

Winning is part of the bloodline in Mecca and Johnston and Greene.

Since the Rockets do not have a football team, boys cross country is the school’s dominant sport. Seven state championships dating back to 1972 attest to that.

It wasn’t Maplewood’s day on Saturday, but you can bet Cowger and his fellow seniors make their respective ways back to National Trail Raceway for the 2017 state meet.

“I’m sure the seniors that were down here today will be here cheering our guys on,” he said.

That’s what championship teams do, continue to support one another even after their high school running days are gone.