BYESVILLE - The cross country season is getting down to the nitty gritty.
The annual OVAC Cal Pokas Cross Country Championship kicked off a a five-week stretch of important meets Saturday morning at Meadowbrook High School.
As coaches and runners strategically plan their workout regimines for the next couple of weeks before the postseason begins, all hands were on deck as teams were aiming to win the conference title.
St. Clairsville senior Andy Thornburg leads the the pack during the early stages of the OVAC?Cross Country Championship Saturday morning at Meadowbrook High School in Byesville. Thornburg, despite falling down during the race, repeated as the champion in a time of 16:03. Trailing him is University’s Jordan Brown-Strobbe (left) and teammate Drake Walker (left).
St. Clairsville's boys, who have been the area's premier team all season, continued to flex its muscle as it captured the overall title with just 61 points. Along with the overall title, the Red Devils claimed their ninth class championship, but first in 4A after moving up in the OVAC's new five-class system.
"The boys ran well," said Devils' head coach Tony Ciroli. "All of my kids stepped up today. Every one of them, and that's something we'll continue to need as we continue on."
St. John Central got back to its winning ways after winning the 2010 title only to have it stripped by the OHSAA due to the use of an ineligible runner. The Fighting Irish took care of their business in the 1A/2A combined race, accumulating 169 points, which was good enough for fifth overall. The Irish finished just 16 points ahead of Caldwell.
"We're pretty happy with how we ran today," said Irish head coach Jeremy Midei. "By in large, I thought we ran a pretty good race. I think we have some things we need to work on before the postseason, but I think every team could probably say that. We knew Caldwell would be tough. We just wanted to get back to winning that single A, double A title."
Magnolia won its 10th OVAC cross country title, but first since 1990. The Blue Eagles finished with 209 points in a Class 3A division, which featured just one other school (Bellaire) with a full squad.
University won the 5A class and finished second overall 68 points. The Hawks edged out city-rival Morgantown for the large-school banner. Wheeling Park finished third in 5A.
THE RED DEVILS not only won their second consecutive overall crown, but they also produced the meet's individual champion for the third consecutive season.
Senior standout Andy Thornburg turned in a strong time of 16:03 to win his second consecutive title and kept it in his family for the third straight year as his brother, Alex, won in 2009.
"I feel like my brother and I have made a mark (on this meet)," Thornburg said. "I am feeling pretty good. I had a couple of meets in the middle of the season where I was struggling a little bit, but I felt good today. Hopefully, I can keep it going."
Thornburg and University's Jordan Stobbe-Brown went back-and-forth through much of the race. Thornburg led the race early, but between the first and second mile marks, slipped and fell for the first time in his running career, allowing Stobbe-Brown to surge to the front.
However, the Hawks' senior proceeded to go down, himself, which re-opened the door for Thornburg, who had regained the lead, to pull away. From there, the Red Devils' all-Ohioan didn't look back.
"There's a little bank out there, and I just slid down it," Thornburg said. "He just slid around a turn, so I guess we both needed longer spikes."
Thornburg won the race by more than seven seconds.
"The race pretty much went as I expected," Thornburg said. "(Stobbe-Brown) and I battled throughout much of the race. We went back-and-forth. I don't think either of us had a lead much bigger than a quarter of a mile."
Four of the five Red Devils' scorers earned all-Ohio recognition and the fifth just missed the top 25.
Junior standout Drake Walker continued his strong season, posting a fifth place finish in a time of 16:40. Junior Joey Davies was 14th overall and third for St. C. in 17:13. Senior Cole Antolak turned in a sharp effort, placing 15th in a time of 17:16.
Rounding out the scoring for the Red Devils was sophomore Alex Timko, who placed 28th in a time of 18:04.
THE FIGHTING IRISH didn't even talk about last year's events as they prepared and geared up to try to win their 10th OVAC title and eighth under Midei's watch.
"None of the stuff from last year played into this," Midei said. "It's a good feeling to win an OVAC title regardless of what's happened in the past. We just wanted to come out and run our best because the ghosts of that don't carry over to today for these guys. They just wanted to run well."
The Irish were led by talented senior Ramon Nieves, who finished third in the race overall in a time of 16:29.
He was joined on the all-OVAC squad by junior Corey Leasure, who finished sixth overall in a time of 16:46, and senior Matt Thomas, who placed 19th in 17:36.
Sophomore Aaron Ebbert was 78th overall and fourth for SJC in 19:23. Sophomore Garrett Holubeck finished 83rd overall in a time of 19:40 to round out the Green's scoring.
"I didn't want these guys to try to run for this or for that," Midei said. "We wanted them to run for themselves, run for their teammates and, most importantly, run for the OVAC title. There's enough value in that to make it worth our while."
THE BLUE EAGLES might have been the happiest team of any when the OVAC announced it was expanding to five classes.
The Blue Eagles were led by senior Bill Feeney, who finished fourth overall in a time of 16:31. Classmate Alec Himerman was ninth overall in a time of 16:50.
Barnesville's Christopher Baker earned a spot on the all-OVAC team by virtue of his 24th place finish in a time of 17:55.
THE HAWKS prevailed by virtue of having all five of their runners earn all-conference.
Wheeling Park, which owns 10 OVAC titles, finished third and was led by all-OVAC runner Tyler Long, who placed 22nd in a time of 17:51.
Indian Creek's Frankie Kamarec was 16th overall in a time of 17:23.
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