NORTH ROBINSON — Colonel Crawford didn’t just win the Division III boys race at the state renowned Galion Cross Country Festival. The Eagles got a jolt of confidence, not that they were lacking.
A week after racing the top small-school programs in the state and finishing fourth at the Tiffin Carnival behind Maplewood, St. Thomas Aquinas and Liberty Center, Crawford met up with Liberty Center again. And in that one week span, the Eagles more than made up the 23 points they trailed Liberty Center, beating them by two points at Amanns Reservoir Park.
“We ended up placing better than we did last year at Tiffin, but it still didn’t sit well with them,” said Colonel Crawford coach Jody Grove who is in her 22nd season as head coach. “We’re getting ready for that regional and you know how (tough) that is. (The Tigers) came here today and we got to race them again. It was a nice confidence booster.”
The Eagles were ranked fourth in last week’s state coaches poll, one spot behind Liberty Center, after winning invitationals at the Bucyrus Elks and its own Early Bird Invitational to start the season.
“It’s going to be a back-and-forth battle with Liberty Center until the end of the season,” Grove said. “It’s awesome that they ran well.”
Colonel Crawford isn’t a rookie outfit. Four of the seven who competed on last year’s team that was eighth in the state meet at National Trail Raceway return.
“The bar was set pretty high last year. We graduated some talent last year, but these kids want to continue that tradition and do the same as we did last year, only place higher at state. That would be the only thing they want to change and that’s what they are gunning for,” Grove said.
The Eagles lost last year’s No. 1 runner Clay Martin to graduation after he was 27th in 16:43, missing All-Ohio by two spots and three seconds. They also replaced Clay Long (135th, 18:56 at state) who graduated.
However, sophomore Chad Johnson has more then stepped into Martin’s role. Last weekend in Galion, Johnson won his first invitational of the season in a blistering pace, clocking a 15:52 and topping All-Ohioans like Cardington’s Jacob Long, Mount Gilead’s Austin Hallabrin, LC’s Colin Burns and Fredericktown’s Bailey Gannon.
“We want to go back to state,” Johnson said, who was 33rd in 16:48 as a freshman at state. “Last year we were ranked going in fifth and came out eighth. We want to come in and do a lot better and show them who is Crawford. We’re a small school, but we want to go out there and have fun.”
After their front-runner, the Eagles feature a fast-moving pack. At Galion, junior Brad Bauer was seventh in 16:38, junior Nick Studer was 15th in 17:27, senior Brandon Long was 17th in 17:29 and sophomore Wade Hopkins was 23rd in 17:40. Since only the top five runners score points in cross country, that’s a formidable Division III boys lineup for Grove.
“They banded together as a group this summer. They went all summer long and were joined at the hips and put a lot of miles in,” Grove said. “If you have that, a group of five that can do that and are really committed to each other, you’ve got the beginnings of a great cross country team.”
Bill Brown Classic
Saturday at Ontario’s Marshall Park
9 a.m.: High school boys gold division (big schools)
9:30 a.m.: High school girls gold division
10 a.m.: Middle school boys gold division
10:30 a.m.: Middle school girls gold division
11 a.m.: Middle school boys blue division (small schools)
11:30 a.m.: Middle school girls blue division
12 p.m.: High school boys blue division
12:30 p.m.: High school girls blue division