Area teams preparing for XC regionals

BAZETTA — This year’s Boardman Regional cross country meet should have more excitement than the change of seasons, which is usually a yearly occurrence at the course parallel to Boardman High School.

There’s been snow, monsoon rains, Indian summer (far and few between), bone-chilling cold (more likely) and, about a decade ago during a Division II girls race, there was sunshine, snow flurries and a huge gust of wind to boot.

I know when they say in Ohio wait 15 minutes and the weather will change, but all during a race lasting a half-an-hour – ridiculous.

Saturday’s theatrics won’t be left to Mother Nature. It’ll all be on the course.

The 10-day forecast on has it reaching a high of 49 degrees and partly cloudy on Saturday.

The Division III boys meet will be as easy as fitting seven bullets in a six shooter – one isn’t going to fit. The top four teams and top 16 individuals move on to state.

Maplewood, Seneca East, McDonald, Gilmour Academy and Berkshire are the favorites. Teams like New London and Independence, a recent two-time state champion (2009, ’10) could sneak in for a trip to National Trail Raceway in Hebron.

“The odd thing is you have five great teams that are going to be there,” Maplewood boys coach Dave Deeter said. “A lot of other teams could bounce up into there. You have to run well enough to get out. Winning would be great, but winning the following week or finishing second is so much more important than winning regionals. You want to get out, but the most important thing is what you do at the state meet.”

McDonald has the longest streak in the state – making the state’s highest pinnacle every year since 1999. This year, the Blue Devils will be tested.

“It’s going to be tough, but we’re used to the toughest region every year,” McDonald’s Bobby Johnson said. “We’re ready to mix it up with the best of them. We still don’t have to run our best. We have to make sure we get out. If we can do that, we’ll be ready to go the week after that, hopefully.”

The Division III girls have issues unto themselves. Gilmour Academy and St. Thomas Aquinas are arguably the top two teams. That leaves McDonald, South Range, Independence and Berkshire chasing the other two spots.

The Blue Devils have yet to be pushed all season, until Saturday’s district when they faced Berkshire.

“It’s really difficult because none of the teams are here from Boardman,” McDonald Rachel Perry said. “Berkshire is here this year and the really pushed us. It helped a lot. We do workouts at Boardman. We know that course pretty well.”

Nobody knows the Boardman course better than the Spartans – a cross country program that sports two district champions.

The girls team will have a devil of a time trying to get out of regionals with Brunswick, Nordonia, Walsh Jesuit, GlenOak and Rocky River looking to claim those four state qualifying spots.

The Boardman boys are the team to beat coming into regionals. Louisville, Chardon, Mentor, Twinsburg will all be chasing the Spartans.

However, the race to see will be in Division I as Chardon’s Nick Elswick, who is heading to Ohio State next season and coming off an injury, goes head-to-head with Boardman’s Mark Hadley. who has committed to Furman. The two are arguably some of the best runners in the nation. The last race between the two – more than a month ago at the Spartan Invitational in Boardman – resulted in Hadley winning by less than a second.

“Obviously today he was just nursing that injury, trying not to kill himself,” Hadley said after Saturday’s districts. “I’m sure he’ll bring it next week.”

Then, Champion’s boys, which barely lost the district title to Crestwood, has regionals on the mind – especially the Golden Flashes’ top two runners – Allen Sparks and Nick Mackey.

“It would greatly exceed my expectations for us to go (to state) as a team, but Nick and I are going to go to state individually,” Sparks said.

Boardman coach John Phillips’ expectations of his boys being the area’s best team are not far fetched.

“We’re blessed to have five really good runners that most teams wished they had one of,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy it as much as we can.”

If you’re not at Boardman Saturday, you won’t realize the fun you missed.