Howland girls, McDonald boys finish as team champs

Howland’s Elenie McNally, left, and teammates Gabby Reuschling, right, help push the Tigers to the school’s first-ever Trumbull County girls cross country championship Tuesday at Badger High School.

VERNON — The flowing hair and the anguish in each facial expression were visible as the girls in orange tank tops and black shorts passed through the last 50 meters before the finish line.

Each Howland girls cross country runner made those final steps toward the end where they stepped on a mat and heard a beep. The electronic chip tied to one shoelace emitted a sound signaling the 3.1-mile trek behind Badger High School and the adjoining woods was over.

Mud splashed and each step soon became heavier than the next as misting rain and course conditions took something from every competitor.

Tigers girls coach Robin Kapalko saw her grouping of runners overcome everything Mother Nature provided, running in packs and finishing seven points ahead of McDonald for the school’s first-ever girls varsity Trumbull County cross country title, 60-67. Maplewood (87), Lakeview (94) and Mineral Ridge (122) rounded out the top five.

“Very happy with how they raced,” Kapalko said.

McDonald’s Zach Dean, left, and teammate Carson Fortune, finish 26th and 27th, as all the Blue Devils top seven finished in times of 18:33 or faster as McDonald won Tuesday’s Trumbull Country cross country meet at Badger High School.

The McDonald boys knew they had to stay one step ahead of Howland with the return of senior Vinny Mauri, who recently came back from a stress fracture. Mauri is one of Ohio’s top distance runners. He finished first and his team came in with 68 points.

The Blue Devils were up to the challenge by scoring 55 of their own to win the boys varsity team title. Howland finished second for the second straight season, while Maplewood (92), Lakeview (121) and Niles (159) rounded out the top five.

McDonald coach Chris Rupe saw his team trailing by 50 points after the first mile, by 30 after mile number two and gradually going into first place near the third and final mile.

“Having him back out there is exciting for them,” Rupe said about Mauri’s return. “We know they show up for the Trumbull County meet, there’s no doubt about it. We were just trying to make sure we didn’t let our guard down at all. It was fun. It was a battle the whole way.”

He’s looking for gradual improvement for a McDonald team which has been consistent all season. No rush to get this team up to speed all at once.

What was fun for him to see Tuesday was his top 10 runners go under 19 minutes. The top five runners on each team determine team scoring.

“We’ve haven’t had that many guys that fast for a lot of years,” Rupe said. “That’s a lot of fun to watch with a lot of guys pushing each other in that part of the pack, just striving to be part of what’s going on.”

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Howland girls, not only a lot of running, but sinus and respiratory problems making its way through the team. — second and third rounds of antibiotics for some.

The Tigers run next on Oct. 6 at The Legends, located at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

“We get to rest before we race instead of running tired and worn out,” Kapalko said. “Then we’ll taper and get to end of season.”