HEBRON — It started out as one final team showcase for the Northwest High School boys cross country squad.
It ended on Saturday as the Landen Smith show — with watchful eyes everywhere.
That’s because the junior Smith, with he and his fellow Mohawks competing in the OHSAA state cross country meet for the first time in school history, captured individual all-Ohio honors — by placing 11th in the Division II race out of 183 total runners.
Smith completed the coveted 5K race at National Trail Raceway in 16 minutes and four seconds, trailing only 10 runners while finishing among the top-20 to earn all-state accolades.
As a team, the Mohawks — the five-year restarted program which are back-to-back regional qualifiers — managed a 14th-place performance, finishing among the top-two thirds of the 20-team field with a score of 329.
Northwest, one of two Southeast District Division II champions along with Saturday’s state runner-up Unioto (115), wound up with three runners among the top-85 — and four within the first 150.
The final three Mohawks, including their fifth scorer, were among the final six placers — including the actual final finisher in 182nd-place.
There was one runner which did not finish the race.
While most observers expected Northwest to finish in the middle of the pack, head coach Adam Schroeder said the state championship was an incredible experience for his young club.
Of the seven Saturday runners, only Eli Marshall graduates, as Northwest was running without its regular fourth scorer — junior Gabe Morrell.
Morrell, whose finish in the Division II regional meet meant the Mohawks moved on to the state, missed running at National Trail Raceway — after he suffered a hip injury in the rain-swollen regional race.
So Schroeder sent his Mohawks out to not pick up the pieces, but pick up the places.
“I am very proud of how my team handled the atmosphere. It is intimidating lining up with the best in the state for the first time. Losing one of our top five runners was tough, but it was nice to see that they (Mohawks) were not down. They all wanted to pick up a couple of extra places for him,” said the coach.
Leading the way was the standout Smith, whose one-mile mark was five minutes and one second, his two-mile time at 10:22, and thirdly his 4200 split being 13:42.
Smith surged up the scoreboard by going from 26th to 16th to 15th to finally crossing in 11th.
In fact, only a minute actually separated Smith from a state championship, as state champion Caleb Brown of Shelby won the race in 15:05.
Only 47 seconds separated second-place thru ninth, as Smith (16:04.8) trailed 10th-place Kevin Agnew (16:04.2) of Carroll by a mere sixth-tenths of a second.
Smith was awarded an all-Ohio medal and recognized on the awards podium — thanks to finishing among the top-20.
“We talk about putting yourself in a place to be successful and Landen (Smith) did just that. Getting 11th is a huge accomplishment, and if he can stay healthy and have a good summer of training next year, he can put himself in the conversation for top-five or to win it all,” said Schroeder. “Landen is a special talent when it comes to running.”
Another special talent is fellow junior Josh Shope, who was 46th in 16:43.
“Josh continues to get better each week and he always runs his race. Going up against the best in the state, he ran to his strengths and passed a lot of people in the last 800m,” said Schroeder. “Josh has a good chance to move into the top-25 next year.”
Speaking of moving up, sophomore Kailan Marshall mastered that for the Mohawks this postseason.
He ended up 85th at the state in 17:06, and actually only trailed 11th-place Smith by a minute and two seconds.
“Kailan ran great and he didn’t get lost in the pack. For a sophomore, his ability to continually move up in a race is something you rarely see,” said Schroeder. “He is a tough racer and you know he will pass people each mile.”
Almost a minute after Marshall made it in, junior Ricky Gambill crossed the line in 18:02 for 147th.
“Ricky fought tough in the pack the entire race. He knew that each second can be multiple points and he gave it everything he had for all 3.1 miles,” said Schroeder.
The last three Mohawks were sophomore Mason Breech (177th in 19:07), senior Eli Marshall (180th in 19:12) and freshman Michael Wamsley (182nd in 22:21), as Breech was the team’s fifth scorer — while Wamsley was the alternate for the injured Morrell.
“Mason and Eli worked together to try and make up for Gabe. It’s hard to make up those points, but they left it all on the course and should be happy knowing they gave it everything they have,” said Schroeder.
Woodridge ran away with the team championship with a score of 37, as Sheridan (12th with 3:18) and Waverly (20th in 402) were the other two Southeast District teams besides Unioto and Northwest.
While Schroeder said advancing to this season’s state meet might have been more reward for an outstanding season, next year could mean a major move by the Mohawks into the top half.
“This has been an amazing season and one I will look back on as a coach. Next year is never guaranteed, so I am glad we were able to enjoy the state meet atmosphere and go home knowing we left it all out there,” he said.
For a complete list of results, please see the OHSAA’s state cross country coverage page at www.ohsaa.org.
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