Place strategy

Kayla Gonzales took fourth place at the State Cross Country Championships

COLUMBUS — As Kayla Gonzales approached the finish line with 100 yards to go in the Division II cross-country championship race, she squinted and gritted her teeth.

Then she gave it her all as the last run of her high school career ended at Fortress Obetz in south Columbus. Every ounce of hard work she has put in over the past four years has come to fruition in these final steps. Every practice in the town of Shelby, every off-season run at the YMCA, and every piece of strategy boiled down to a single moment.

Gonzales crossed the finish line in fourth place with a time of 18:35.8 in tough, windy conditions, earning him the second All-Ohio honor in his illustrious cross-country career.

“I just wanted to improve on last year and see what I could do,” Gonzales said. “I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t do PR, but that wind was a major factor today. I’m still happy with the placement, so it worked out. The first mile and a half is crazy because everyone everyone is trying to get into position, but I was trying to stay behind some people to protect myself from the wind. It was a constant battle, but once I got to the second kilometer it calmed down a bit.”

Gonzales was 5:46.3 into the first mile as she tried to round a crowded row of lead runners but couldn’t find a seam to climb a spot. So she stayed back and let the riders in front of her bear the brunt of the stiff wind, which allowed her to conserve some energy for the backstretch.

Shelby's Kayla Gonzales sprints to the finish line during the Division II cross country meet at Fortress Obetz in Columbus on Saturday.

It paid off as she improved from 15th place last year with a time of 18:46.5, knocking out 11 places and 11 seconds behind in the 2022 competition.

“I’m super happy and it’s proven that all the work I’ve put in throughout my career has been worth it,” Gonzales said. “I came in as the third seed and I would have liked to finish in the Top 2 or 3, but I’m happy.”

It was the last race of his career. Gonzales leaves Shelby as the school record holder, a four-time All-Ohioan and the highest individual place in the state in program history. To say she is accomplished is an understatement.

“Honestly, it’s bittersweet because I want to come back next year and see if I can do better,” Gonzales said. “It’s good to look back at what I’ve achieved over the past four years and be proud. I’m going to focus on the track now and hope to do better there.”

Lexington's Brailey Slone earned All-Ohio honors in his freshman season by finishing 18th in the Division II Cross Country Championship race on Saturday.

Slone and Miller lead Lexington to third place in tag team

For a freshman, Lexington’s Brailey Slone had broad shoulders on Saturday. The youngster took 18th place with a time of 19:19.8 to earn All-Ohio honors and lead the Lexington Lady Lex team to a third-place finish with 164 team points.

“I’m very happy with this place,” Slone said. “I was really hoping to get All-Ohio. It’s kind of cool because it gives me a chance to win All-Ohio every four years and it’s nice to see what my hard work has helped me achieve. “

Lexington came in as the No. 3-ranked Division II team and finished just there behind state champion Granville with 130 points and Kenston with 155. Lex finished top of the No. 2-ranked Minerva who finished with 188 points. Lady Lex had an average tome of 20:07 and an average mile of 6:29 to post a team time of 1:40:33.

Senior Kenley Miller finished his Lexington career with an All-Ohio honor taking 28th, Top 30 All-State honors, with a 19:43.4. Senior Emma Wise took 31st with a 19:49.2, Elyana Weaver took 87th with a 20:40.5, Maddie Haring took 102nd with a 21:00.1, Abby Moeglin took the 120th with a 21:20.0 and Mikayla Delamater finished 122nd with a 21:24.3.

“We were really hoping for gold, but the race just didn’t go the way we planned,” Slone said. “We still worked hard and the Top 3 is really cool. The wind was strong up the hill and right away. Coach (Denise) Benson did a great job preparing us for what we were going to see and telling us what to do and what times to strike.”

Slone performed well in the first state meet of his young career. She was 5:53.6 after the first mile before jumping 11 points from where she was ranked.

“The first mile, I just tried to stay relaxed because the second mile was where everyone was doing their moves,” Slone said. “So I was just trying to stay with the first group so that in the last mile I could really go out there and catch as many as I could and the last 1K I just gave it my all.”

All she had was good enough for an all-Ohio spot as she headlined a good group of young riders returning for Lexington next season.

Shelby's Huck Finnegan finished his high school career with all-Ohio honors at the Division II cross-country meet on Saturday.

Finnegan leaves everything on the course

Shelby senior Huck Finnegan entered Fortress Obetz ready to exorcise demons with all-Ohio honors in mind.

What he delivered was as gritty and bold as a performance by anyone at the state meet in any division. Finnegan looked strong the whole race until the last 100 meters when he literally had nothing left in the tank. Finnegan was in the Top 5 before stumbling on a small dive heading for the turf and the final right away. He got up and continued to put one foot in front of the other before falling back just before the finish line.

Again he got up and finished the run in 16:38.8 and in 30th place, last place All-Ohio. He received extensive medical attention after the race, but was released from Fortress Obetz an All-Ohioan.

“Huck looked great and we wouldn’t change a thing,” Shelby coach Chris Zuercher said as Finnegan was in the medical tent. “He was strong in the two miles, but sometimes those things happen when you’re right on the edge. We quickly knocked a few guys down in the last quarter mile. It’s a tough sport. There’s no timeout. on a day like today. You see what happens when you put it all in. It’s a tough thing that happens to good runners. You don’t see a lot of bad runners that have that because they don’t put themselves out there like He did.”

The saying “Give it all you got, then give a little more” was the perfect way to describe Finnegan’s last state encounter during his high school career.

“All that effort and everything he could to cross the line was worth it,” Zuercher said. “Even when things went wrong, he still got All-Ohio. That says a lot about his strength for almost the entire race. He was beside himself and the first thing he asked was if he was 30th He really wanted that and even though he would have finished outside the Top 30, he’s all Ohio to me no matter what.”

He was the first runner for Shelby’s team in 10th place. Luke Dininger took 50th place with a 10:00.4 while Indy Mayer took 91st place with a 17:27.9, Marshall Moore took 108th with a 17:37.4, Luke Lesseuer took 140th with a 17: 59.8 and Ian Finnegan took 155th with an 18:18.3.

“I thought the team, overall, wasn’t as strong as we would have liked,” Zuercher said. “We raced well, but we were 50 points off fourth place. We just needed to be a bit higher, but I’m happy for the guys this season. It’s been a great season and we’ll be heading for the ‘Indiana next weekend and racing in the Nike NXR Midwest meet.

Crestview's Cooper Brockway earned valuable experience from the Division III cross-country meet on Saturday at Fortress Obetz in Columbus.

Brockway gains valuable experience

Cooper Brockway, a sophomore at Crestview, made his first appearance in a cross-country meet and came away grateful for the experience.

He took 81st place overall with a time of 17:26.1 as Richland County’s only representative in Division III, boys or girls.

“It was a great experience,” Brockway said. “I hope next year will be better. It was tough conditions with the wind and most of it was up front where there aren’t many people to cheer you on, so it was a tough mental game to overcoming that and the wind. It was tough to get through, but that’s what you have to do in races like this.”

The second will head into track season looking to take a second trip to the sport. But he’ll come into the cross-country offseason with a fire to get back to the state and do even better.

“It definitely lights a fire because next year I want to rank higher and get into the Top 30,” Brockway said. “That’s what my goal will be next year. Training will have to be a lot harder next year and I’ll have to cover a lot of miles if I want to achieve my goals for my junior year.”

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Twitter: @JakeFurr11