Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
November 1, 2018
The Kenston boys cross-country team is riding its second most successful string of seasons in program history after the Bombers secured their third straight trip to states during Division I regional competition on Saturday in Boardman.
Other than a string of seven straight trips from 1980 to 1986 – with a state championship and three runner-up team finishes – no other era of Bomber harriers has gone dancing three straight seasons.
Senior Jakob McConnell led Kenston by finishing fifth overall – the best individual Division I regional showing in program history – and second in the team race in 16:42.18 on a muddy 5-kilometer course that promoted placement over times among 186 runners in the field.
“I mean, it’s a huge accomplishment,” McConnell said about his program’s three-peat. “It really shows how much we’ve grown as a team. I mean, we’ve been working all summer towards this goal. So, just to finally get down there, it’s great.”
The Bombers graduated three of their top-five regional scorers from 2017, in Sam Markel, Will Grendell and Will Britton, but they were in great shape for a top-seven team finish when senior two-man Kyle Silk crossed the line in 17:17.24 and junior three-man Casey Pleune checked at 17:41.07.
And they were still in good shape when sophomore Jack Turk stopped the clock at 17:55.93 to finish as Kenston fourth runner during his regional debut on Saturday. The Bombers were in sixth place at the point in the race, but they couldn’t put their feet up just yet.
Kenston 12th-year head coach Chris Ickes said his boys were comfortably qualified, but junior David Rosinski was running with Pleune when he got weak-legged and passed out from total exhaustion 30 meters from the finish and eventually began crawling his way toward the line.
“We went from a sure qualifier to anything but certain,” Ickes said.
It was then up to sophomore sixth-man Garrett McConnell to bring up the Bomber scoring caboose with a team state berth on the line. In his regional debut, the younger McConnell outsprinted Solon’s fifth man to the finish to lock up the seventh and final team spot out of the region by two points ahead of the Comets, 223 to 225.
Had the younger McConnell not finished ahead of Solon’s five man, the Kenston boys would have lost a tiebreaker to the Comets with their season coming to an end.
Although, Solon senior Logan Esper punched his repeat individual ticket by finishing 19th in 16:53.77. The top 28 individuals advanced.
Rosinski ended up finishing the race in 18:30.51 but needed a visit to the emergency room, while junior Jordan Knapp rounded out the Bombers’ varsity squad in 18:44.92.
“I think all throughout the season it was just about stepping up,” the elder McConnell said. “We have a really young team. I was talking with the underclassmen, just explaining to them what it really takes to get to states and what we need to do to get there and how it’s always about the next man.
“I mean, I’m super proud of (Garrett). That’s a huge accomplishment for him to score. He sure has stepped up and been a great contributor this year.”
Among 23 Division I teams in the boys race, state-favorite Hudson scored 65 points to easily run away from the competition, beating runner-up Massillon Jackson, 112 points, third-place St. Ignatius, 167 points, and fourth-place Medina, 184 points.
The University School boys, meanwhile, finished fifth with 189 points to punch their program’s first state berth as a team since 2014.
Other than the addition of freshman Nate Miller, who was University’s sixth man in 18:04.20, the Preppers varsity lineup has gone unchanged since last year’s regional team that finished 17th overall.
Leading US on Saturday, junior Justin Iler finished eighth in 16:46.17.
“It was truly an unbelievable feat that we accomplished,” Iler said. “We based a lot of our success on last year’s experience, you know, qualifying for regionals after not being able to compete as a team at regionals in years prior. So, we came in with the mindset of just believing in ourselves and believing in our training that we had done, and just trying to get our one through seven runners to buy into the training plan.”
While Iler was a regional champion in 15:48.96 last year, course conditions were better in 2017. Not to mention, Iler had been sick for a month leading up to this year’s race, he said.
“So, I wasn’t really racing for time, as I knew coming off this sickness that I wasn’t going to achieve a PR or do anything magnificent, but I was just competing for points for my team to try to get the lowest amount of points possible,” he said. “I think I got five (in the team standings), which was great. I was pleased with my effort and just trying to maximize my team’s opportunity to make it in the top seven, and we clearly did that.”
Also scoring for the Preppers, senior Ben Chao finished 28th overall in 17:00.12, sophomore Griffin Walsh clocked a 17:39.50, junior Graham Clark finished in 17:50.08 and senior Michael Castellanos clocked a 18:01.74, while Miller and senior Cole Bowes, 18:54.79, rounded out the varsity squad.
Walsh and Castellanos, in particular, dropped time from last year’s regional outing, despite the muddy conditions.
In the Division I girls race, Solon senior Olivia Howell finished fourth in 19:08.60 among 190 runners, while Kenston sophomore Ellie Pleune also secured a repeat individual state ticket by finishing 26th in 20:19.34.
With six races taking place Saturday in Boardman, the Division I girls were the last wave to take on the course.
“It was pretty muddy, and all the turns were practically destroyed by the other races,” said Howell, who is committed to the University of Illinois. “Every time you take a turn you pretty much slip and it shocks your legs a little bit.”
Howell said she was out to defend her regional title from a year ago, but it just wasn’t her day. Brunswick junior Emily Bardwell won the race in 18:50.23, while Medina Highland senior Kaylie Kenne took runner-up in 18:55.53 and Medina junior Juliette Keller was third in 18:58.32.
“I was trying to win regionals, but it just didn’t turn out that way,” Howell said. “I’m really happy that I still made it to out. I’m really proud that I can represent Solon and I’m going to states for all four years.
“I just really want to enjoy my last cross-country race, although it’d be really nice if I won. That is a goal of mine. But, if it happens that I don’t, I’ll still be really happy that I ran there one last time.”
The Division I boys race at 12:30 p.m. and the Division I girls race at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron, just east of Columbus.