Digging a little deeper

HEBRON – Chris Rupe knew his team had something more in them this season. The McDonald High School coach helped cultivate that something extra this past week.

The Blue Devils showed the onlookers during the Division III state cross country tournament Saturday at National Trail Raceway, as they had the race of their lives en route to winning the school’s seventh state championship. McDonald beat out Maplewood, 94-103.

“He sure knows his way with words,” McDonald senior Allan Coviello said. “He can get you ready when you need to be ready. He’s an amazing coach. He knows what kind of training you need for every type of weather. He researches every little bit. He gets you ready for this race, the biggest race of the year.”

It started with senior Bobby Johnson winning the state individual title in a time of 15:45.48.

“It’s surreal,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to grasp the moment right now because this is something I’ve dreamt of since my freshman year. I think about it every single day, almost – especially this past year.

“It’s hard to control the emotions the last few days and keep it under control. I was able to complete it and finish it the way I’ve always wanted to.”

He is the first individual champion from McDonald since Stuart Henderson in 1989. Also, Johnson is the first Trumbull County individual champion since Maplewood’s Andy Arnio led the Rockets to a state championship in 2005.

“There’s so many great athletes I’ve ran with, Kyle Joynes, Patrick Kunkel, all these great athletes,” Johnson said. “The fact I was able to pull it out and be in small group with one other person in school history is an amazing feeling.”

After the euphoria of the McDonald senior and its fans cheering as the Blue Devils distance runner came trotting down the home stretch by himself past the finish line, the wait was on.

Coming into the race, Maplewood and Seneca East were the team favorites. McDonald was seen as a dark horse of sorts, along with Cincinnati Summit Country Day and Garaway – the top five ranked teams in the state.

Then, the news started to trickle down to the McDonald coaches as they began to jump up and down and hug one another as they found out the Blue Devils beat Maplewood. It is McDonald’s second state title in three years. Also, McDonald has the second most state titles in Ohio history. Caldwell, which has nine (1973, 1985-92), has the most. McDonald won its state titles in 1982, ’83, ’99, 2001, ’04, ’11, ’13.

On Saturday, Garaway was third (141), followed by Country Day (171), Gilmour Academy (174), Liberty Center (177) and last year’s state champion Seneca East (178).

Things started to come together as Coviello, who had been fighting back problems most of the season, placed 24th, 16:43.80, his best time this season.

“Everything came together and it was beautiful,” Coviello said.

During the race, Coviello said he wanted to prove that he was feeling better.

“I went out hard because I needed to get myself in a good spot,” Coviello said. “I was trying to get top 16, which didn’t happen, but that’s all right.”

For the first time in McDonald history, Johnson and Coviello made the team podium all four of their years. The Blue Devils took runner-up honors in 2010 and 2012, winning in 2011 and this year.

“It’s what we had to have for sure,” Rupe said of his Johnson and Coviello leading the state championship team this season. “Our team was relying on them so much through the year and Bobby was our rock the whole way through. I kept reminding the guys, ‘Don’t you ever go into any race expecting Bobby to always win and that’s just the way it is.’ We need to enjoy every race he gets to be part of our team and what it means to have a guy that can go into most every race the whole year with a chance of winning.”

Maplewood, led by Tristan Dahmen’s second-place finish, took the podium beside Johnson (16:07.49).

“It means Tristan is doing the right things,” Maplewood coach Dave Deeter said. “It’s hard to tell what he’ll do next year. There’s a lot of guys that will come up and improve. We’re thrilled he’s second this year.”

It was the team’s best finish since winning the 2005 state championship. That was Maplewood’s sixth runner-up title in school history.

“Our front three had amazing races,” Deeter said. “Our five, six and seven ran pretty well. We did have a race that was a little off. That’s why we see some of those faces, but you’ve got to put it out on the course.”

The Rockets have won five state titles in school history.

“The goal was to get a trophy,” Deeter said. “That was the No. 1 goal. We had two freshmen. We’re very young, because we were young we were unsure how everyone would handle this type of race. We kept it as low key as possible. Getting a trophy is a big deal. It’s amazing.”

Also, the last time McDonald edged Maplewood for the Division III title was 2001. The next two seasons, Maplewood beat out its rival McDonald.

Added into the mix for this year’s area all-Ohio was Maplewood’s Solomon Yoder (16th, 16:29.47) and Mineral Ridge’s Logan Smith (18th, 16:36.53).

“I never expected to place this well at state and I worked very hard,” Smith said. “I’m proud of my outcome today.”

While the Division III race had many local winners – Johnson being the biggest – it wasn’t just a win for him, but one that will go down in the history books for McDonald.

“We kept feeling if we could ever put it together on one day that we were a darn good team,” Rupe said. “I didn’t know if that would be a state championship team or not. I thought that could mean we could make a go at it. It did definitely, very much pump up the rest of the team. That was the neatest thing for me today.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been as vocal out on the course as I was today. I usually talk to the guys and give them some meaningful input and encourage them. Today, what everybody kind of needed to know, was the rest of the team was out there and we were here to race today. The whole lead into the race was, ‘Are we going to show up to race today?’ “

Saturday, McDonald definitely did.