Area runners chasing podium, all-Ohio status

Call Ryan Sullivan a trail blazer. He’s the first Howland cross country runner in recent memory to go to back-to-back state meets.

He and his teammates dyed their hair blonde for Saturday’s Division I regional at Boardman High School, something Maplewood and McDonald runners have done in the past.

“Our whole team dyed our hair because it’s the furthest we’ve been in 30 years. If we would’ve made it, it would been the first time,” said Sullivan, who finished fifth in the region.

The Howland program has a bit to go to be considered alongside those Division III juggernauts, but they’re getting there.

Runners like Sullivan are paving that way for the Tigers.

“You got to have people working hard in practice,” Howland coach Dan Libert said in a previous interview. “That spreads throughout the team. They have success and other kids want it. They want to step up and work too. This goes all the way back to Aaron Sutton, who was a worker, then his brother (Nate), Troy Seagraves and Dale Hynes. It started with all those guys. When Ryan came in as a freshman, I told his dad, ‘Your son has a lot of potential if he’s willing to do the work.’ And he has. He’s had the success.

“I told him anybody can be a good runner if you’re willing to really work hard. They’re starting to see the results.”

Sullivan is a driven runner. He’s won quite a few titles over the season, but his best running came during the postseason – especially at the districts. The prolific distance runner clocked his best time of his career, 15:46.70.

“My initial drive comes from the fact I was given some God-given abilities. I can’t waste those,” he said.

Then, his team, which took 10th at regionals and fourth at districts, pushed him to be a two-time state qualifier.

The words of a motivational poem he had at regionals will apply to his solo mission when he treks around National Trail Raceway in Hebron on Saturday.

“I can. I will. I must. Today, we changed it to We can. We will. We must,” Sullivan said.

Look for Sullivan to will himself to this year’s podium, which honors the top 15 runners in each race.

Speaking of finishing toward the top, Champion’s Allen Sparks rolled through the Division II race with a fifth-place finish.

This is Champion’s first cross country representative at state since Ryan Petrick made in 2001. That year, he took 24th in the Division II race in a time of 16:24 – good enough for all-Ohio recognition.

Sparks is taller than 6-foot and has an excellent stride, which makes him hard to beat in most races around here.

He, like Sullivan, might be able to get to the podium. If not that, at least all-Ohio, which is the top 25 in each race.

Then, dipping down to Division III, there’s a pair of area runners that will try to reach the podium as well.

Mineral Ridge’s Logan Smith is the first runner the Rams have sent to state since Nicole Moore went in 1999.

Smith has been training with McDonald’s Bobby Johnson, who is one of the, if not the best, runner in Division III.

Smith, who took sixth at the Division III regionals, has reaped the benefits and is excelling this year and will be one of the area’s top runners, heading into his senior season.

Finally, there’s McDonald’s Heidi Hoffman. She took fourth in the Division III girls regional, but was hoping her teammates would join her.

It truly was a bittersweet day for the Blue Devils sophomore, who will run solo at state – hoping to reach the top 15.

Her team placed fifth. The top four in each race advanced to state. But the kicker for the McDonald girls was the team was one point shy of qualifying. It was the first time since 2008 the team didn’t make it to state.

Trumbull County has a handful of strong individual runners, but they all have something in common – the ability to reach the top 15, or at least all-Ohio status.