Some things in cross country aren’t a given

Cross country is pretty much a cut and dried sport. And every year, there are your elite runners who stand out from the rest. This year, it’s Boardman’s Mark Hadley, McDonald’s Bobby Johnson and Howland’s Ryan Sullivan.

Teamwise, it’s a crap shoot to say the least. There’s nothing given in the next month leading up to the three weeks that count the most – districts, regionals and state.

So far, Maplewood’s boys team has dominated the area with a handful of wins – none bigger than Saturday’s victory at the Spartan Invitational.

The Rockets top three of Tristan Dahmen, Solomon Yoder and Derek Morrison have been a solid pack all season, leading Maplewood. Then, there’s Jake Hall, a freshman at the No. 4 slot, steadily improving and ready to help Maplewood make its way into second place in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Division III boys state poll – behind defending state champion Seneca East.

Maybe the Rockets will take over the top spot after Saturday’s victory over Gilmour Academy.

However, the real wild card of this team lies with its fifth runner – Scott Rupe. The middle distance runner and jumper by trade, has honed his distance skills. His 38th-place finish of 17:48.7 gives this top five quite a boost going forward.

As for the McDonald boys, they have arguably the best Division III runner in the state in Johnson. He’s gone toe-to-toe with Hadley and dominated most of his races this season. The level-headed distance runner has found the right pace so far and seems to keep that going forward.

He has a chance to be the first Trumbull County individual state champion since Andy Arnio won the Division III title. He and Andy Morgan took 1-2 in 2005 to lead the Rockets to its last state championship. He also could be the school’s first individual state champion since Stuart Henderson captured the Division III crown in 1989.

As for Sullivan, he paced the Tigers to a victory at Saturday’s McDonough Invitational in 15 minutes, 54.15 seconds. He’s led Howland to many titles over the past couple of weeks, Suburban League meets and invitationals.

His biggest test will be Sept. 24 at Maplewood High School – the site of the Trumbull County Meet. The test comes in the form of Johnson, which could make for one of the most tightly contested races in years.

Speaking of close races, look at the Division I boys race at the Spartan Invitational. Hadley edged out Chardon’s Nick Elswick. It was a different outcome than last year’s regional at Boardman where Elswick edged out by less than fourth-tenths of a second. Talk about close.

Saturday’s victory was less than a second, but guarantee you haven’t seen the last of the Elswick-Hadley battle. Both could face each other during this year’s district, regional and state meets – making for great entertainment near the finish line.

It proves not everything in this sport is a given.