MANSFIELD – Dominique Clairmonte can run away from just about anybody, but that won’t be the case for teams battling it out in the Ohio Cardinal Conference this season.
Last weekend was a sneak peak of how competitive the OCC could be, with Clairmonte’s Lexington team fighting down to the wire with area power Galion at the Bucyrus Invitational and Clear Fork holding off Ashland for the title at the Madison Invitational.
West Holmes is two-time defending OCC champion and Orrville is coming off back-to-back top three finishes. But Lex, Ashland and Clear Fork all have the firepower to make things interesting.
At Lex, it starts with Clairmonte, whose last 10 months have been phenomenal. She ran a fifth-place time in the 1,600 of 4:55.32 at the state meet in June, unofficially making her just the third area girl to crack five minutes. Then came a state title in cross country last fall followed by two more — in the 1,600 and 3,200 — at the state indoor meet in March, where the Lex junior set a Division II-III meet record with her time of 5:03.01 in the metric mile.
In that same meet, sophomore teammate Mackenna Curtis-Collins finished third in the metric two-mile. Those two and junior Abby Miller are back from the 4×800 relay team that earned a fifth-place state medal last spring.
Galion won the 4×400 relay to win the Bucyrus Invite by three points over Lex, which had firsts from Clairmonte in the 800 and 1,600, Curtis-Collins in the 3,200, Sarah Oliver in the pole vault, Breanne Stichler in the 100 hurdles and — it should probably go without saying — its 4×800 crew.
Clear Fork showed its depth at the rain-swept Madison Invite, winning by a 125-116 margin over Ashland despite winning only one individual event — Kayla Huvler in the discus — and the 4×200.
Returnees Elizabeth Staab, Spencer Basham and Brittney Hart were all part of school record-setting sprint relays last spring, with the 4×100 and 4×200 crews both advancing to state.
Ashland, which has had a top-three OCC finish every year since 1997, will try to keep that streak alive, led by Cirrus Robinson and Cassie Schuster. Robinson was sixth at state in the Division I high jump last season, clearing 5-5. Schuster was a regional qualifier in the 800 and long jump and 4×400, joining Robinson on that unit.
Robinson also made it to regional in the 400 and Brooklyn Duewel made it that far in the 1,600 and 3,200. Robinson won the high jump and 400 at the Madison Invite, Schuster took the 1,600 and Lyndsey Plues — another returnee on the 4×400 — swept the hurdles.
How deep and talented is Galion? The Tigers of co-coaches Todd Roston and Colby Bright, coming off their first league championship since 1979, won the Bucyrus Invite at less than full strength.
Three girls from last season’s state champion 4×100 crew are back: Michaela Slone, Clair Erlsten and Sydney Hunt. None of them competed in that relay at Bucyrus — and the Tigers still won the event.
In fact, Galion swept all three sprint relays and also got firsts from freshman Marisa Gwinner in the high jump (a meet record 5-6.25) and Slone in the 400.
Nine different girls competed for Galion on the three winning relays, with M’Lynn Gwinner running on all three. There’s no telling what this team might do once it has its full complement of athletes.
Mount Gilead looks to be a force again in the Central District, led by senior Rachel Bush, a triple state medalist in 2014, and five teammates who also have state meet experience.
She didn’t make podium in the pole vault, but earned an eighth-place medal in the 300 hurdles and ran on the 4×400 and 4×800 squads, both of which placed fifth.
Also part of those quartets were returnees Bryanna Bolha and Jenna Shipman. Morgan Brooke, Olivia Brewer and Becca Kindred all are back from the state-qualifying 4×200 relay.
Bucyrus senior Brittany Parsell picked up where she left off, taking firsts in the long jump, 100 and 200 at last week’s home invite. She medaled in all three at state last spring, finishing eighth in both dashes and fifth in the long jump with a school-record leap of 17-3.75.
Ontario’s Rachel Miller made it to state last year in the 400 as a freshman — breaking the school record in her first meet — and is also a fine hurdler, evidenced by her win in the 300s last week at Bucyrus. Fredericktown’s Carolyn Webster is a school record-holder in the high jump and long jump and has won three medals at state, including a runner-up medal in the long jump in 2013 and back-to-back third-place finishes in the high jump. She cleared 5-6 last year in Columbus, matching the winning height.