Losing to Chagrin Falls twice during the regular season, the Kenston boys cross-country team was not the favorite to defend its title entering Saturday’s Chagrin Valley Conference meet at the outdoor YMCA in Perry.
The Tigers didn’t graduate a single runner from their 2013 Division II third-place state team, while the Bombers lost five of their varsity seven from a year ago.
But when October rolls around, running fast is just what the Kenston harriers do, head coach Chris Ickes said.
“They’re finally starting to run like I knew they were capable of,” he said. “I mean, I knew we were young and it would take some time. So they’re starting to put it together. It’s been a lot of fun with this squad.”
While Chagrin junior Joe Bistritz won the 5-kilometer race in 15:55.25, Kenston’s top-five scorers finished 2-3-4-9-11 to tally 29 places and capture their third consecutive Chagrin Division title – and fourth in the last five years – besting the runner-up Tigers’ 43 places and the rest of the nine-team field.
Orange, 182 places, finished sixth with junior Alex Macauda leading the Lions with a 17:50.57 time for 23rd, while West Geauga, 196 places, finished seventh in the 62-runner varsity race. The Wolverines were led by junior Zach Yaecker, who took 24th in 17:56.44.
Leading Kenston, junior Drew Sanders finished as runner-up overall in 16:32.51.
“I think, personally, as well as a lot of other people on the team, we just ran for each other, really, and we ran as a team,” Sanders said. “I think that’s really what made the difference and allowed us to win.”
Kenston junior Tyler Cooper finished third in 16:47.62, while sophomore Max Fay took fourth in 16:48.87.
Suffering an injury from soccer 10 days before the meet, Cooper rehabbed in the pool and on a bicycle, and he did not get back on the track until last Wednesday, Ickes said.
“Tyler was very selfless at the CVC meet,” the coach said. “He knew he might not be back at 100 percent. So he put the team kind of on his back and just took everybody through the first 1 1/2 miles and then just let everybody race the last half and see what could happen.”
While Saturday was the first time this season that Kenston had three runners faster than 17 minutes, two others were right on the cusp of that barrier.
Freshman Sam Markel finished ninth in 17:01.13, and sophomore Evan Sanders was 11th in 17:06.13. Seniors Kevin Ward, 18th in 17:40.40, and Tyler Fisher, 21st in 17:45.11, rounded out the Bombers’ varsity seven.
Kenston junior Kevin Robinson, meanwhile, won the open race by more than 20 seconds, posting a time of 17:33.98.
“For him to have the focus and determination to put down such a good time by himself says a lot about his competitive fire,” Ickes said. “It’s easy when you’re finishing your last mile to just take your foot off the gas. So we think we have two or three more who can also be in the 16s with our front three.”
Team depth keyed the CVC title, the elder Sanders said.
“A lot of teams have maybe one frontrunner, but we have a significant number of individuals that are all really talented,” he said. “It was awesome seeing us all come in, two, three, four. It was a really satisfying moment, because we’ve all been working really hard, and it’s nice to see it pay off, but we’re not content, because we still have a long way to go and a lot faster to get.”
While a lot of people know about Sanders and Cooper and what they’re capable of, since they were on varsity last season, Kenston’s Fay is an underrated runner in the area, Ickes said.
“They don’t understand that Max is a sophomore and can hang with those guys,” the coach said. “He’s really starting to understand how to race the 5K, and I feel like he has the mental toughness to stick up in the top five, top 10 once we get into districts, once we get into regionals. He has the guts to just keep pushing and keep hurting and enduring the pain.”
Cross-country coaches love to have kids who are competitors, Ickes said.
“I don’t think people understand that these guys are sprinting for 5,000 meters,” he said. “It’s not like they’re just out there for a jog. And it hurts. The kids who are mentally tough like Max, like Sam Markel, like Evan, like Tyler, like Drew, good things seem to happen for those guys, especially when they work as hard as they have.”