Looking ahead to the 2014 XC season

Running 3.1 miles. It’s not as glamorous as catching a 60-yard pass for a touchdown with thousands of fans screaming your name.

Cross country is much different. It’s mental exertion, physical endurance and the utter will to endure the unpredictable Ohio elements on all sorts of flat, hilly or sometimes muddy terrain. The goal is to finish as high as possible and help your team to win a league, district, regional or state title. It’s you against the other runners, but more so you against the course.

Last year, McDonald’s boys cross country team, one of the most successful distance teams in Ohio history with seven state titles (two Class A, five Division III) and eight runners-up, won the Division III state title. The Blue Devils have the second most state titles in Ohio history behind Caldwell with nine.

McDonald won last year’s Division III state championship over longtime archrival Maplewood (five state titles, one Class A and four Division III, along with five runners-up crowns).

This year, with plenty of depth behind the Rockets, Maplewood is the favorite going into this season. The Rockets did lose Solomon Yoder (Walsh) to graduation, but last year’s No. 1 junior Tristan Dahmen returns, as does senior Derek Morrison and sophomore Jake Hall. There are plenty of reasons why Maplewood is the favorite this season and could be in the discussion of the school’s first state title since 2005.

McDonald graduated Bobby Johnson (Butler) and Allan Coviello (Mount Vernon Nazarene), the team’s top two runners. However, the Blue Devils have plenty of firepower from last year’s team. They are anxious to prove McDonald is still among the distance elite and can still compete for a state title.

Juniors Danny Loomis and Marco Mediati, along with seniors David Natoli, Bryce Street and Zach Hawout all ran under 19 minutes at Saturday’s Billy Goat Challenge.

Don’t think for one minute it’s the same M & M (Maplewood & McDonald) factor in Trumbull County.

Besides Dahmen and Morrison, Mineral Ridge senior Logan Smith is one of the areas top runners. Mineral Ridge has a great 1-2 punch with Smith and fellow senior Nathanael Toth.

Add to that Champion junior Allan Sparks, who was an all-Ohio runner in Division II.

The Golden Flashes’ archrival, Lakeview, won’t go away anytime soon and has chance to amass enough talent to follow Mineral Ridge’s lead and leap to regional.

Howland was quite competitive last year with YSU freshman Ryan Sullivan. Look for senior Ben Cole and junior Ethan Petrilla to take the reins of this year’s Tigers team and make sure they don’t fade back into obscurity and try to make another run at the Division I regional.

Be on the look out for Girard’s Derek Basinger, who had a nice run at Saturday’s Billy Goat Challenge.

Austintown Fitch and Canfield have some talent as well, led by junior Andrew Green (Fitch) and senior Mack Mettille (Canfield), who had good showings at Saturday’s GlenOak Golden Eagle Invitational – running against the best Division I talent in northeast Ohio.

As for the Mahoning Valley, there are three surprise teams this year.

Badger is led by juniors Owen and Cody Reeher, along with sophomore Ty Reeher. The Braves are coached by former Kent State University runner Kurt Ward.

Jackson-Milton had a good jolt in Saturday’s Salem Early Bird Invitational with freshman Austin Teeters and senior Devin Seka running around 18 minutes and leading the Blue Jays to a fifth-place finish.

As for the girls side, McDonald juniors Heidi Hoffman and Rachel Perry, along with Howland seniors Taylor Craigo and Morgan Buckley, who have won two of the last three individual titles at the Trumbull County Meet, lead the way.

However, McDonald’s girls have won the last couple team County titles – led by Hoffman, who had the highest finish at the state meet from any female runner in the area – placing 21st and winning All-Ohio honors.

Look for McDonald and Howland to have another battle, just as they did last year, for the Trumbull County title. Both teams have some talented runners leading them. It’s going to fall upon the remainder of the three-through-seven runners to see how far they go as a team.

Another good team is Bristol, who is led by senior Kimberly Michael. The Panthers qualified for regionals last year and have most of their team back this season.

Lakeview has a very young team led by sophomores Addison Paul, Tiffany Vega and Cammie Becker. The Bulldogs are young but have plenty of experience coming back this season.

Poland, which has around 30 runners this year, is led by junior Elizabeth Becherer, freshman Maggie Sebest and senior Elise Eckman.

Girard has a good team as well, but lost a lot of senior leadership. However, the Indians do return their top runner in junior Domenique Hall.

By the end of the year, these boys and girls will run through their share of the elements. It’s a 5K race of the body and mind, one these athletes have to overcome to reach the state meet Nov. 1 at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.