LEXINGTON – Last year was a perfect regional for the Lexington cross country program. Not only did Nick Stricklen and Dominique Clairmonte win individual championships, but the boys and girls also took home first-place regional trophies from Tiffin’s Hedges Boyer Park.
Lexington will try to make back-to-back perfection Saturday.
“I guess this year I’ve felt more pressure than any other year just because I’m always out in front,” Stricklen said. “Going into regional and trying to defend my title, that’s some pressure right there.”
Last year Stricklen turned it on in the second half of the season and ran care free without the burden of expectations. He won the regional by less than a second over Wauseon’s Quintin Reiser, running in 16:02 as the Minutemen romped to the regional crown by 53 points over Bay.
Stricklen and company would like nothing more than to match or top that kind of effort.
“The most important thing over the next two weeks is getting my team focused for every single race, getting them pumped up and calmed down, also,” Stricklen said. “That’s the biggest thing we want to go for, we want to defend our regional title and go into state with a solid performance from regionals and we can use that momentum at the state race.”
On the girls side, Clairmonte fought off sickness at the district and still easily won the race. Lady Lex remains the unanimous top pick in Division II’s latest state coaches poll, so they will again be the heavy favorite Saturday.
“Just staying positive and coming together as a team is the most important thing, and we’ve done really well with that,” Clairmonte said. “We’ve gotten really close, so just staying that way and staying together and making sure everyone’s on and making up for the people who are a bit off on days. Just being there as a team for each other is what’s going to get us where we need to be.”
Last week Clairmonte ran an 18:08, good enough to win the race by 40 seconds, but still about 40 seconds off what she could have done at Galion if healthy.
“I think mentally and physically it was the hardest (race) for me,” the defending state champion said. “Even downhill here toward the end, I started to feel lightheaded from all the breathing I was doing. It was tough.”
That’s a concern. It’s the most important stretch of the season and runners are going against the best competition. And it happens during the start of cold and flu season.
Lex coach Denise Benson admits it’s a challenge.
“It’s not that I worry about the things that are out of my control. I just pray and try to be optimistic that at the end everything is going to come together. Everything happens for a reason,” Benson said.
Saturday’s Regional Cross Country Meets
Tiffin’s Hedges Boyer Park
Division II Girls, 11:45 a.m.: Lexington, Shelby.
Division I Girls, 12:30 p.m.: Ashland.
Division II Boys, 2:15 p.m.: Lexington, Shelby.
Division I Boys, 3 p.m.: Ashland.
Youngstown Boardman High School
Division III Girls, 11 a.m.: Colonel Crawford, Bucyrus, Loudonville, plus individuals from Mansfield Christian, Plymouth and Mapleton.
Division III Boys, 1:30 p.m.: Colonel Crawford, Mapleton, plus individuals from Bucyrus, Plymouth, St. Peter’s and Lucas.
Pickerington North High School
Division III Girls, 11 a.m.: Northmor, Fredericktown.
Division III Boys, 1:30 p.m.: Fredericktown, Mount Gilead.
Troy’s Memorial Stadium
Division III Girls, 11 a.m.: Mount Gilead.
Division II Girls, 11:45 a.m.:Individuals from Highland.
Division III Boys, 1:30 p.m.: Cardington, Northmor, plus individual from Gilead Christian.