HEATH – Before Heath embarked on what would become a memorable cross country season, coach Scott Brown took his team into the gym to look at championship banners.
“We saw, last league title 1991. Last district title, mid-1980’s,” he said. “We didn’t even look at the state banners.”
Now, the Bulldogs have one of their own after finishing fourth in the Troy regional, making the state meet for the first time since 1987. They’ll run in the state at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
“I thought we could be good, but we’ve far exceeded the goals we set at the beginning,” Brown said. “Through the district, we won every meet except Newark. If we ran well at Troy, I thought we could make it. Taylor (Hopkins) ran near the front, the kids packed well, and they take a lot of pride in that.”
Hopkins placed second in 15:56. Then Caleb Large (17:06), Chandler Wilhelm (17:08), Nick Lee (17:13) and Dylan Karr (17:18) finished within 12 seconds of each other.
“Sometimes, on a bigger stage, it’s tougher to believe that you belong there,” Brown said. “What’s unique is how much they run for each other. Caleb ran with a purpose after struggling in the district. I saw Chandler at the 1.5-mile mark, and I thought we were in trouble. But he wasn’t about to give in.”
Heath is trying to enjoy its time in the limelight, but the Bulldogs will be as competitive as usual at National Trail. Hopkins has a good shot at All-Ohio, which is top 25.
“Dylan has led them from the start, and he said, ‘we do what we always do. That’s compete the best we can,'” Brown said.
The Bulldogs could be back in 2016. Karr is the only senior in the top five. Hopkins and Large are juniors, while Wilhelm and Lee are just sophomores.
Keith on the fast track
Everyone knows about the accomplishments of Newark’s Toby Hardwick, now running at Iowa State University.
But Wildcat junior Owen Keith is already ahead of the pace Hardwick set as a junior.
Keith ran 15:42 at Marion and 15:48 in placing seventh in the Pickerington North regional. He’ll compete in the Division I state meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
“When Toby ran 15:54 at the state (in 2012), he was the first junior we’ve ever had go under 16 minutes,” coach Randy Noftz said. “Owen is already faster than that. He ran 15:55 at the OCC meet.” Hardwick went on to run 15:21 as a senior and place second in the state.
It’s been a steady progression for Keith. “He went from 19 or 20 minutes as a freshman, to 17:20 as a sophomore, to where he is now,” Noftz said. “Taking over a minute off, that’s almost unheard of.”
Noftz, however, is not surprised.
“Owen is a dedicated worker,” he said. “Last summer, he ran with Isaac Wheeler who is now at Cedarville University, and they did a lot of seven, eight, nine-mile runs. The summer runs, the dedication, never missing a practice. Those things add up.”
Noftz thinks a top 25 All-Ohio finish is a reasonable goal for Keith on Saturday.
“Last year, he couldn’t keep up with Daniel White (of Watkins Memorial),” he said. “This year, he’s running on his shoulder.”
He predicts great things ahead for Keith.
“Next year, I think he could get top five in the state,” Noftz said. “We want him to run the regional Foot Locker meet this year, too, to see what he’ll need for senior year to make the nationals.”
Drushal finally healthy
Longtime Lakewood coach Dan Sekerak knew he had some talent after seeing David Drushal run as an eighth grader.
“Then, he got injured in track, and couldn’t train as much as a freshman because of it,” said Sekerak, in his 43rd year at Lakewood. “Last January, he twisted his ankle. Now, for the first time, he hasn’t been injured for a long period of time. I knew he would be improved, but nothing like this.”
Drushal placed 11th in the Division II regional at Troy with a personal best 16:23, becoming the first Lancer sophomore in 48 years to make the state. “And Troy was a much harder course than Watkins,” Sekerak said. “There are a couple of steep uphills.” He’ll run at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
He has cross country in his genes. His cousin ran to a state championship. And he also made a tough decision. “Last year, he was also in band, but decided he couldn’t do both,” Sekerak said.
“He’s a minute and a half ahead of our next runner, so he has no training partner. But he has a good sense of pace, to not go out too hard. It’s going to be an interesting ride for him, these next couple of years.”