PICKERINGTON — With the way this October has gone for the Northwest High School boys cross country team, no amount of wind, or especially rain, was going to slow down this season’s Mohawks from running in November.
That’s because, for the first time in program history, the Mohawks have qualified for the annual Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross country meet — after placing fourth at Saturday’s rain-soaked Division II regional meet at Pickerington North High School.
Northwest, only a fifth-year restarted boys program, will be among the 20 teams competing for a Division II state cross country championship — which takes place this Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
The Mohawks, after capturing not only the Southern Ohio Conference championship in the cold but their first-ever district championship in the bright sunshine — qualified for the state meet, amid miserable weather conditions that featured frequent gusts of wind with sideways rain.
The top seven teams, or exactly the top third of the boys field, advanced from the regional meet to the state meet — as the Mohawks had a team score of 189, which actually earned them fourth by a single solitary point over fifth-place Sheridan (190).
Of the 169 individual runners, the Mohawks had three runners within the top-34, four within the top-81, and five within the top-100 as junior Gabe Morrell — who unfortunately injured his hip during the race — made it across the finish line only five places and four points ahead of Sheridan’s fifth runner, Ross Emmert.
After the race, as Northwest learned it had qualified for the state meet, the Mohawks had a cool-down run — and probably did a rain dance as well.
Adam Schroeder, the fifth-year Northwest head coach, wanted his hard-working and running Mohawks to take time and celebrate Saturday’s state accomplishment.
“This is huge, and we want to just enjoy this,” said Schroeder. “We’ve always been pushing to get to this moment. Now that we are there, we have to make sure we enjoy it. The kids work so hard, day-in and day-out. It’s so nice we have a chance to be a part of the elite teams — one of the top 20 Division II teams. That’s a huge deal for us.”
The seven Mohawk runners had to, of course, navigate the course — but also negotiate the downright dismal weather.
It rained hard at the Pickerington North campus on Saturday, and picked up strength as the Division II boys race took place.
Schroeder said, however, the Mohawks had to run in whatever weather conditions there were.
Last season, as Northwest qualified for the regional meet for the first time in 30 years, they ran in similar wind with less rain — but it was colder.
“We train no matter what the weather is,” said Schroeder. “There have been a couple days where we’ve gone out in sub-20 degree weather and got our runs in. We know that we’re always running distance outside, so we prepare for this. They knew they may have to race in this (weather) when it matters. Today, they did, and they have prepared for the past couple of years.”
Speaking of the past couple of years, juniors Landen Smith and Josh Shope have been Northwest’s top twosome — as both finished within the top-16 on Saturday, after placing 29th (Smith in 17:18) and 37th (Shope in 17:26) in last season’s run.
Smith, in fact, crossed the finish line in fifth-place overall — in a fast 16 minutes and 13 seconds considering the awful weather conditions.
“We wanted Landen to go after that front pack today. We wanted him to get out fast, avoid the mess and take care of business up front,” said Schroeder. “He went out fast, he fell back a little, but his last mile is always strong. I would not want to be anywhere close to that kid when he is kicking. So he did great.”
The only four to finish ahead of Smith were race champion and Heath senior Xavier Foehl (15:46), runner-up and Tri-Valley senior Ryan Meadows (16:02), Southeast District champion and Sheridan junior William Wilke (16:04), and Jonathan Alder senior Luke Malone (16:11).
Shope secured 16th, completing the muddied-up 5K course in 16:41.
Individuals among the top-28 not on a qualifying team also advance to the state meet, as Smith and Shope would have made it out on their own.
“Josh Shope is just proving he is one of the elite. He was 16th-place today against a great field. He has shown he has taken that next step,” said Schroeder.
The next Mohawk in was sophomore Kailan Marshall, who crossed in 34th in 17:09.
Rounding out the Northwest scorers were juniors Ricky Gambill (81st in 17:53) and Morrell (99th in 18:08), as Morrell — despite still running hard after hearing his hip “pop” — couldn’t walk without assistance from the finish line to the team tent to the awards ceremony.
“I can’t say enough about Kailan Marshall. He is just tough. He moved up over 30 spots to the end. When he is in a race, it’s never a fast start, but it’s always consistently moving up. Gabe Morrell was running great, and about a mile to go, said he heard his hip ‘pop’. But he finished the race and without him, we couldn’t have made it. Props to that kid because that’s tough. Then Ricky Gambill, as always, is consistent. He moved up, he helped Gabe (Morrell) out, they talked a little bit during the race, and he ran great too,” said Schroeder. “Without those five, it never would have happened.”
The sixth and seventh Northwest runners — senior Eli Marshall (149th in 19:06) and sophomore Mason Breech (159th) — finished within 10 places and 25 seconds of one another.
“No matter who you are, each spot of seven is important,” said Schroeder.
The Mohawks had been going head-to-head, toe-to-toe and foot-to-foot with Waverly all postseason, as the Tigers punched their ticket to the state by finishing seventh with a 219.
In between Northwest, Sheridan and Waverly was sixth-place Jonathan Alder (212), as Unioto — also a Division II district champion with Northwest — won the regional with a team score of 65.
Heath (99) and Hebron Lakewood (162) were behind Unioto and ahead of Northwest, as four of the seven state qualifying clubs hailed from the Southeast District.
“It’s nice to know our area is on the rise with running. Four from our district made it out today,” said Schroeder. “That’s unreal. That’s really showing that Southern Ohio is coming to play and stepping up across the board.”
In addition to the Mohawks, Minford junior Dutch Byrd (98th in 18:08) competed in the Division II boys race as an individual — and placed exactly one spot ahead of Morrell.
In the Division III boys race, Valley senior Alex Morris finished 51st in 17:18, while Wheelersburg junior David Brown was 82nd in 18:37.
Only the top-20 individuals in the Division III boys race qualify, as young Northwest will represent Scioto County this week as one of the top-20 Division II teams.
Schroeder said the Mohawks’ most realistic goal for this season’s state competition is to simply “enjoy the experience”.
“We will have almost everyone back next year, but right now, we’re not focused on next year,” he said. “You never know what will happen next year, so you always appreciate the moment you are in.”
And right now, the moment Northwest will enjoy is competing on the statewide stage.
The Division II boys state race is set for 2:15 p.m. on Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved