CUYAHOGA FALLS: The cross country course at Cuyahoga Valley National Park has more ups and downs than a Cedar Point roller coaster.
Consequently, the 5,000-meter track is regarded as one of the most demanding in the sport, and not just in Ohio, said Woodridge coach Jeff Howard.
“From my days of running in middle school, high school, college and coaching, I’ve never been on a tougher course,” he said. “If you go out too hard, it’s unforgiving.”
And that explained Twinsburg coach Sarah Kmet’s smile Saturday afternoon when she was handed the 28th annual Woodridge Invitational boys championship trophy.
“I could not be happier about today’s outcome,” Kmet said. “I think some teams shy away from here because they’re looking to post fast times, but our guys look forward to it. To put four [runners] in the top 10 is pretty huge.”
The Tigers were led by seniors Garrett Crichlow and Nick Schank, who placed 1-2, respectively, in a field of 161 runners representing 18 high schools.
Except for one brief moment after the first hill, Crichlow was in control from start to finish (16:51.3) and the only runner under 17:00.
“I used the hills to my advantage,” he said. “But, I would say it’s the toughest course in Ohio.”
The Tigers (49 points) were followed by Bay (85), CVCA (118), Brecksville (126) and host Woodridge (130) in the team rankings.
Schank (17:20.7) stayed close behind Crichlow for the first half of the race and had high praise for his talented teammate.
“Garrett pulls me along with him, and helps me get better and better each week,” he said.
CVCA junior Ryan Adams placed fourth (17:26.1), while Twinsburg’s Josh Gogan and Buckeye’s Colin Theis were sixth and seventh.
“When the hills have names you know they are going to be tougher,” Adams said. “The challenge makes it fun. Even the pain that comes with it, it’s sort of like a reward in itself because you know you are getting stronger.”
In the girls race, Watkins Memorial junior Josie Woosley kicked the final 400 meters and passed runner-up Katie Durisin (20:50.9), a sophomore from Painesville Riverside, for the individual title (20:46.7).
Woosley started fast, faded slightly, and then rallied for the victory.
“It’s hard to stay mentally in the race,” she said. “I didn’t know I was going to win until the last 10 meters.”
Furthermore, it was a memorable afternoon for Woodridge senior Madison Spreitzer, running her last home meet, and leading the Bulldogs to a team championship.
“I knew I was going to run with my heart in it,” she said, after placing fourth (20:59.2) and blazing a trail for seven Woodridge runners in the top 20. “At the start there were about 15 girls in front of me. But, this is a trickier course and you really want to run it smart.”
Having won a Portage Trail Conference meet earlier in the week at Crestwood, Spreitzer gradually worked her way into the lead pack.
“Maybe there are people passing you on the hills, but you have to take the hills controlled and then start moving on the downs,” she said. “You can move yourself through. My plan was top five.”
Rachael Lovett of Twinsburg finished fifth (21:27.7) among 167 competitors from 19 schools. Woodridge runners Julia Moore, Allyson Dryer and Clare Willett placed 11th, 12th and 13th in that order.
The state-ranked Woodridge girls impressed Howard with their team championship (54 points).
“That’s exciting when they go out and protect their home course,” he said. “With seven in the top 20, we had some depth, and our kids ran real well. We’re of the philosophy you can’t win the race in the first 200 [meters], but you can lose one there.”
Watkins Memorial (122) finished second, followed by Midpark (131), Twinsburg (144) and Cloverleaf (169).