McDERMOTT — There is of course social distancing, then there is just good old-fashioned distance running.
Perhaps perfectly-timed, the Northwest Mohawks had four boys — all distance runners throughout the academic year — represent the school at the annual Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches state indoor track and field meet, which took place on Saturday, March 7 at The Spire Institute in Geneva.
Fortunately, the meet was scheduled when it was — before the avalanche of postponements on mass gatherings and cancellation of sporting events altogether in response to the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Mohawk quartet consisted of all juniors —Ricky Gambill, Gabe Morrell, Josh Shope and Landen Smith — as that foursome finished sixth in the 4x800m relay and earned all-Ohio honors as a result.
Individually, Smith secured a ninth-place effort in the 1,600m run —and missed all-Ohio accolades by a mere 44 one-hundredths of a second.
Shope also ran in the 800m run, and placed 16th.
Adam Schroeder, who heads up the Mohawks’ indoor squad along with serving as the head cross country coach in the fall and an assistant track coach in the spring, explained the entire indoor process —and talked about his runners’ experience.
“Throughout the season, indoor meets count as qualifiers for the state meet. Both Divisions II and III were combined for indoor state and only the top-24 times were allowed to race at the state meet. This was the first year that this group (Landen Smith, Josh Shope, Ricky Gambill and Gabe Morrell) has qualified for indoor state. After the cross country season, they decided to get serious and train through the winter. Landen Smith, my number-one runner, made the tough choice to quit basketball and focus on the upcoming track season. All of the distance runners are lucky because they have such a good group to train with. Kailin Marshall and Eli Marshall did not make the state meet, but each day they pushed the others to make sure they know that they are gunning for a spot on the relay. This was their best winter of training because they set some big goals for themselves,” he said. “We race indoor track to break up the training and have some fun at the meets. This year, they ran fast enough to qualify for (indoor) state.”
The Mohawks qualified for the state in the 4x800m relay by running the eight laps in eight minutes and 40 seconds at the Cedarville Richey Invitational, then Smith and Shope advanced as individuals — in competing in their respective specialties at the Marshall University Invitational.
Smith ran the mile in four minutes and 33 seconds, while Shope punched his state ticket with a 2:02 in the two-lap 800.
At the state competition, the 4x800m clocked in at eight minutes and 21 seconds and was sixth, thus making the top eight for all-Ohio.
Smith returned for the mile and ran it in 4:31 for a ninth-place performance, just missing the awards podium by less than a full second.
Shope’s 16th-place effort in the 800m included a 58-seconds first lap, en route to a 2:04 final time.
“Landen Smith, Gabe Morrell, Ricky Gambill and Josh Shope were all-Ohio in the 4x800m and although they were happy, they were not excited. They wanted top-three and they want to make their mark before they graduate,” said Schroeder. “Landen came back and doubled in the mile. He ran a great race, but kicked a little too late to miss out on the podium by .44 of a second. I was very impressed with Landen and Josh and their decision to run the 4x800m and sacrifice time in their individual races. They wanted to put the team first and go after it together.”
The Mohawks went after it alright — after they decided to go after it to begin with.
Schroeder said any experience in running in major meets was worth it in the long run.
“Initially we decided to skip the state meet because we did not want to make the almost five-hour drive. The kids wanted to wait until they were seniors and make the drive then. I helped talk them into going and getting the experience of another state meet. Any chance they get to race in a big-time meet they need to take advantage of it,” said the coach. “Leading up to the state meet we did not change our training, we stayed focused on our goal of the outdoor state meet in June. We ran some mile repeats two days before state without any idea of what was going to happen to our outdoor season. We were hoping to podium in the 4x800m and if they ran their best, I thought that they had a chance to be in the top four.”
Schroeder also addressed the situation, as it stands now, of the grim yet realistic possibility of the spring season getting cancelled —as those same four Mohawks make up part of the Northwest outdoor unit.
On Monday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine extended the schools closure mandate in the Buckeye State thru May 1, whereas it originally extended thru April 5 — when first announced on March 12.
Spring sports, had they resumed in fact on April 6, did have a re-acclimation period of exactly one week —from Monday, April 6 thru Saturday, April 11.
That’s now out the window, and although the Ohio High School Athletic Association hasn’t officially on-the-record responded to DeWine’s directive from Monday, the earliest that they can now resume — following from the initial mandate — is Monday, May 4.
“It has been extremely tough keeping the kids positive and motivated throughout this. There is a daily posting of track workouts and I have sent out training calendars to all of the distance runners. Luckily with a veteran group of runners, I know that they will continue to get their miles and workouts in on their own. I have helped the kids realize that distance running builds year-to-year and everything they do now will help them for the next cross country season if the track season ends up getting cancelled,” said Schroeder. “They know the work they put in will always be a positive down the road; it is hard to find a more motivated group. Hopefully, we can all get through this with our health and the kids get a chance to prove that they are one of the best in the entire state.”
Indeed, as they are already one of the elite — at least in indoors distance running.
“Since school has been out due to the coronavirus, I am very glad that the kids ran indoor state,” said Schroeder. “We do not know if we will get to race again this year, and having those races makes it a little bit easier for the kids.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved