Entering the final straightaway of Saturday’s Division I state cross country race, Newark’s Toby Hardwick was running in third. But that wasn’t good enough.
The senior had his eyes set on Hudson’s Kyle Mau and did everything he could to catch him.
“I was really focusing on his running form, and I could tell he was tired,” Hardwick said. “I have a decent sprint, and I was too close to just give it up. That final stretch I had to give everything I had, and it paid off. The last 10 meters I caught up to him and passed him.”
Hardwick outkicked Mau just before crossing the finish line, earning a second-place finish in a personal-best time of 15:21 at National Trail Raceway. Hardwick, who originally set the school record in the state meet in 2012, lowered it again as he has several times this season, edging Mau by less than .6 of a second.
The race had the fastest lead pack of any Hardwick had ran in, he said. He crossed the one-mile mark in a blistering 4:47 and passed the two-mile in 9:53. The quick pace was an adjustment Hardwick and coach Randy Noftz made early in the season in order to compete with the state’s best.
Only one was better this time. Youngstown Boardman’s Mark Hadley won the title in 15:10.
“It was really fast, but it was comfortable,” he said. “I was around the people I was supposed to be with. They were just as tired as I was, and they weren’t giving up. Everyone was fighting, and so was I. It was a great race.”
Hardwick finished in 28th in 2012 despite the school-record time. He said his only goal entering this race was to find his way onto the podium.
It wasn’t until the midway through Hardwick realized simply making the podium wasn’t a lofty enough goal. He almost matched former teammate Anthony Johnson’s state track title from the 1,600 in June.
“It was incredible. I can’t really explain it,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for any more. It’s an amazing moment in my life.”
Hardwick’s race was the end of a year-long mission. Newark Catholic senior Mary Richardson has been on a year-long magic carpet ride.
Richardson, the NC school-record holder, can call herself an All-Ohioan. Richardson survived the wind, mud and competition to place 23rd in 19:37.
“I knew there were people everywhere,” Richardson said. “I was positive I wasn’t top 8 like I was dreaming of all last night, so I was just hoping for top 25. It is impossible to count.”
Richardson compared the state to when she used to compete in the 200 in track. Richardson soon found distance running was her thing.
Former NC state participant Ali Ernest warmed up with Richardson before the race and shared some advice regarding the atmosphere. It is the coaching staff, however, that has been in awe of Richardson. Her personal best in 2012 was more than three minutes slower than her time in this race.
“I had hoped maybe I could be a part of my team going to state,” Richardson said. “Maybe I could be like the sixth or seventh runner or maybe be an alternate for state. I would have been ecstatic about that, so I never expected this.”
Watkins Memorial’s Josie Woosley picked her way through a tightly-packed Division I race. Woosley was sitting in 42nd at the one-mile mark, but only six seconds separated the top 53 runners.
Despite falling because of exhaustion a few steps from the finish line, Woosley was able to get up and stagger across in 21st in 19:00 for her first All-Ohio finish. She almost had a podium finish.
“I just tried to do what my coaches told me to do, and it is really hard to chill for the first mile at the state meet,” Woosley said.
Granville finished 10th in the team standings in Division II. Leading the way were Claire Lamb (44th, 19:49); Micaela DeGenero (45th, 19:52) and Alyssa Atkinson (48th, 19:52). Other competitors were Cassidy Carey (79th, 20:21); Tori Flowers (105th, 21:00); Destiny Braden (112th, 21:16) and Jessica Sadaghiani (121st, 21:30).
Granville Christian’s Lauren Keiser finished 41st (20:03) in the Division III race.
Watkins Memorial’s Andrew Jordan placed 35th (16:12) in the Division I boys race, and Granville’s Tyler Otterstedt (38th, 16:57) and Robbie Weaver (91st, 17:34) competed in Division II.
Kurt Snyder contributed to this report.