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Girls Cross Country

Frank Gibas Invitational 2017

Bomber harriers capture own Gibas Invite

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 7, 2017
Tony Lange

The Kenston boys cross-country team appeared to be in late-October form during the fifth annual Frank Gibas Invitational on Saturday at its home 5-kilometer course in Bainbridge, but apparently the Bomber harriers are just getting warmed up.

With five guys finishing in the top 10 among 138 runners in the varsity race, Kenston scored 29 points to easily best runner-up Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, 96 points, third-place University School, 138 points, and the rest of the 14-team field.

Led by junior Jakob McConnell’s runner-up finish in 16:10.1, the Bombers’ top five guys cooked up just a 38.8-second spread.

“As a coach and for the first week in September, you’re pleased with a performance like that, but also too you know that there’s a lot more to achieve,” Kenston 11th-year head coach Chris Ickes said.

“I’m really pleased with where they’re at, as far as conditioning goes,” he said. “But it’d be a strain to say that we’re race-ready, or race fit – that would be inaccurate. They have a long way to go before they’re truly sharp, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”

Still not racing its top guys, 2016 champion Solon finished eighth in the boys team standings, while Chagrin Falls was 10th and West Geauga was 12th.

Winning the race, University School sophomore Justin Iler clocked a 15:55 to best Kenston’s McConnell by 15.1 seconds.

McConnell was the Bombers’ No. 1 runner during the Division I state championships last season, clocking a 16:20.5 at the National Trail Raceway, while Iler ended his freshman campaign at the regional stage with a 17:49.55.

“I think the big thing with (McConnell) that we’re working on right now is his winning and being a lead runner,” coach Ickes said. “That’s more important than any time he could run – just getting up front and racing to win. And this past week, he was winning until about a half mile left, and just Justin Iler from University was able to pull away from him. And Justin is a quality runner coming into his own. But the times will take care of themselves.”

Also pacing the Bombers’ team title, senior Sam Markel finished third in 16:32.2, junior Kyle Silk took sixth in 16:41.9, sophomore Casey Pleune was seventh in 16:46.8, and senior Will Grendell finished ninth in 16:48.9, while senior Will Britton was 13th in 17:11.1 and sophomore Jordan Knapp was 20th in 17:31.1.

When Ickes took over the boys program in 2007, he said, the Bombers were lucky to have one runner crack the 18-minute barrier.

“And then it became the goal to get one runner under 17:00,” the coach said. “So, to have five under 16:48 this early in the season just says a lot about how far this program has improved. I think that Sam’s done a really good job of leading our next group. He’s made sure that by the mile mark that our three-through-seven, three-through-eight runners are with him. And then he tries to pull them through the second mile.”

Also turning in top times in the boys field, University School sophomore Graham Clark finished 19th in 17:27.1, Chagrin Falls senior Justin Rayner finished 24th in 17:56.2, and West Geauga freshman Johnny Patterson was 26th in 18:01.7.

Many runners had slower times than last year’s Gibas Invite, but that was a result of moving the start and finish lines to incorporate in an extra turn on the course, as well as changing some gradual turns to sharper, 90-degree angles, Ickes said.

Nonetheless, cross-country is a sport that also depends on a variety of factors, including temperature, wind and aeration of a course.

So far this season, the varsity Bombers have three races under their belts, also including a fifth-place team finish at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Preseason Invitational and a team win at the Green Bulldog Invitational.

“On our side, as far as things go, we think that we need about seven races to be ready to run a peak race, but you also need all of the training that accompanies that,” Ickes said. “And, with some of the inexperience we had of leading races, we felt for our team it was important that we got in some races so we could start practicing our running and being in the top five and being in the top 10. So, that’s a lot of the reasons why we’re running so much early maybe compared to what we’ve done in past years.”

The Kenston boys returned this season on the heels of their first state bid as a team in 24 years. They finished 13th among 20 teams during the 2016 Division I championships and only graduated their No. 3 runner in Evan Sanders from that showing.

New additions to the team this fall, sophomore Pleune is a transplant from Florida, and sophomore Knapp transferred from Brunswick.

“(Pleune) ran in the mid-17s last year,” Ickes said. “I think coming into a new program was important, but the thing that’s helped him most has been strength and working on hills. He had no hills in Florida. So, he’s gained strength just by working in our daily training.”

While last year showed that the state meet is possible, the Bombers are now expecting a return trip, Ickes said.

Entering this season, the Kenston boys were ranked eighth among Division I programs, according to the Ohio Association of Track and Cross County Coaches, and they retained that ranking when the week-one poll came out last week. Northeast Ohio programs ranked ahead of them are Hudson, St. Ignatius and Medina.

“I think the most important thing that ranking does is put a little bit of recognition to the hard work that these guys have put in,” Ickes said. “Rankings are rankings. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, they’re inaccurate. They’re imperfect. Sometimes you think there’s teams above you that you can beat, and there are teams below you that can maybe be a little better than you today. So, we take them with a little bit of a grain of salt, but definitely see that it’s nice to be respected among other top coaches and top programs in the state.”

On the girls side, meanwhile, CVCA captured the team title with 55 points, besting runner-up Chardon, 62 points, and third-place Chagrin Falls, 104 points, in the 15-team field.

Beachwood senior Leah Roter defended her title in 17:34.5, while Chagrin Falls senior Annie Zimmer finished runner-up in 19:03.9 and Kenston freshman Ellie Pleune took fourth in 19:30.4.

The host Lady Bombers finished fifth as a team, while Solon took sixth without junior standout Olivia Howell, and West Geauga was 11th.

Also turning in top performances, Chagrin Falls sophomore Hannah Clark finished sixth in 19:52.9, West Geauga junior Olivia Conley took 11th in 20:20.6, Solon junior Elsa Mabey was 12th in 20:23.3, Chagrin senior Hannah Zaluski finished 18th in 20:46.6, Solon senior Hailey Erkkila finished 19th in 20:51.2 and Kenston freshman Amelia Witmer-Rich took 21st in 20:59.6 among 127 runners in the field.

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