Runners deal with delay of a week, altered course

The state cross cross country meet this season has not been a simple thing.

There was an unprecedented week delay and a change to the schematics of the course at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. The race is scheduled Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m., after being pushed back from the original start date of Nov. 3 because rainy weather had made the track unusable.

The course no longer takes a jaunt to the left of the drag strip area at the start of the second mile. The path stays parallel to the racetrack and then weaves beside the wooded area to the right of the starting line before cutting through the woods in the final mile of this 5K course.

Grumblings from the athletes were visible on social media about the weeklong delay. Is there a change in store for the state meet in 2019?

Ohio High School Athletic Association Director of Communications Tim Stried said the requirements for the state organization to host a state cross country meet are a good running course, big grandstands and plenty of parking, which is National Trail Raceway.

“We are not currently looking for a new home for the cross country state championships, but we are always discussing potential regional and state tournament sites,” Stried said.

McDonald boys cross country coach Chris Rupe is something of a Zen master, providing calm in the midst of chaos. He usually has an inspiring speech the week of the state meet, which he’ll reveal after his team finishes the Division III boys race.

The unforeseen changes cannot alter anything this McDonald team does this week. Saturday has to be a state of mind.

“It would be misleading for me to act like there’s this amazing coaching plan that culminates on a certain day,” Rupe said. “I really think it’s about a mindset. I think that mindset is what we’re striving for right now to go into it excited instead of choosing to be disappointed.

“Why would I choose that? Get the best out of ourselves and be as ready as we can. I have to make the choice to be negative. I’m not going to make that choice.”

Howland senior Vinny Mauri, who has verbally committed to Arizona State University, is one of the favorites in the Division I boys race at 12:30 p.m.

He’s not sure how the course is going to change his strategy, but he knows an extra week of preparation didn’t hurt.

“I believe that the extra week helped me because I needed maybe just this one extra week to get more conditioned and mentally ready for the race Saturday,” Mauri said.

Badger junior Miranda Stanhope, who is one of the top runners in the Division III girls race starting at 1:30 p.m., doesn’t know how the new course layout will affect her until she sees it in person sometime today.

The delay certainly helped her preparation.

“Once getting past the initial shock of state being moved, I think the extra week has given me more time to prepare both physically and mentally for the race,” Stanhope said. “The extra recovery time between regionals and state might allow my legs to feel fresher than they would have racing last weekend.”

McDonald’s girls don’t mind if the course is a little beat up on Saturday. The wear and tear on the Boardman course for the regional almost two weeks ago tested the field of runners, powering through mud and constant rain.

“I keep telling my girls, the muddier, the hillier, the windier, the better,” McDonald girls coach Mike Richards said.

This McDonald team hopes for better than a ninth-place finish at state, the Blue Devils current ranking in the latest Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Division III girls state poll. Top seven or even top five is a lofty goal, but not unattainable. The extra week has given McDonald some more hope for a good placing.

“We felt we were on an upswing, getting better, both our girls and boys,” Richards said. “We’re getting better so this is another week for us to get better. I’m sure there’s teams out there not looking in a positive way.

“That’s the way we’re looking at it.”

It’s all about how you approach Saturday’s races, relying on the intestinal fortitude and excitement of the moment to carry each of the team’s seven runners through 3.1 miles. McDonald’s boys, which are ranked sixth in the latest Division III boys OATCCA poll, are looking for a top-five finish. Mount Gilead and East Canton, the defending state champion, are the favorites.

“It’s about these guys right now and being excited even though it was held off a week longer than we thought it would be. Trying to take the excitement they have for racing and have it at the level it needs to be at the right time and see what happens,” Rupe said.