The day before its Division III regional meet, making a fourth state meet appearance in as many years didn’t matter much to the Liberty Union cross country team.
That’s because the Lions found out early Friday their No. 2 runner, Colton Roth, was in a car crash and had to be taken to the hospital, where they found out he broke his leg, coach Renee Mangette said.
“It puts things into perspective,” the Liberty Union first-year head coach said. “Cross country is such a small part of the whole picture of life. (He’s) alive, and (he’s) OK. That’s all I care about.”
With the loss of one of their top runners and the emotions of wondering about their friend’s health, the Lions put forth a gutsy effort to finish third Saturday at Pickerington North to make it to the state meet.
The Lions qualified for the fourth consecutive year, but that was far from the most important thought in their minds.
“All that mattered was him,” junior Brandon Altiers said. “Yesterday was really hectic for a while before everybody knew what was going on.”
Senior Matt Maldovan added: “Third place feels like first place today. (Roth) is such a great teammate. We had to do it for him.”
Jacob Motts led the Lions by finishing 20th in 17:31. Jeff Hanson (24th, 17:38), Mikey Cuschleg (26th, 17:42), Brandon Altiers (49th, 18:19) and Gene Smith (55th, 18:26) also scored.
The team was unsure about its standing after the race, but when the results were posted, Liberty Union was ecstatic. After spending most of Friday at the hospital, they talked to Roth on the phone before and after their race, as he remained in the hospital through Saturday.
“All of us coming together the past week, the past 24 hours, have been great,” Altiers said. “It’s really opened our eyes to how close we were, how close we are and what we can do when we need to. Today was pretty awesome, actually.”
In Division I, Lancaster’s Adam Wise finished fifth in 16:01 to qualify for state for the first time. All year, Wise has been conditioning himself to believe he belongs with the best in the state, and he showed it.
“I’ve been trying to get there for the last two years, and it finally happened,” Wise said. “It’s awesome this year. It’s what I’ve been working for all season, and I’m proud of my team and how we did.”
The Golden Gales finished fifth, one spot out of a team berth. Lancaster’s 134 points were 20 behind fourth-place New Albany. Stephen Sparks (20th, 16:30), Nick Weaver (26th, 16:37), Robbie Harris (48th, 17:11) and Jon Urbine (51st, 17:12) also scored for the Gales.
In Division II, Fairfield Union’s Isaac Verdow finished 59th in 18:04.