A seventh consecutive state berth as a team wasn’t in the cards for the Chagrin Falls girls cross-country program during Division II regional competition on Saturday at Boardman.
But the Lady Tigers’ future remains bright with freshman Mila Gresh and junior Rose Hoelzel securing individual tickets behind top-24 performances in the 150-runner field. In fact, Chagrin’s front six runners all return next season.
Gresh stopped the clock at 20:28.7 to finished 16th on the muddy, 5-kilometer course, while Hoelzel took 23rd in 20:52.9 to secure her state berth with a 4.9-second cushion.
“Going into the race I wasn’t really nervous because I just saw it as sort of any other meet in that if I ran fast and was there for my team, I was going to do well,” Gresh said. “So, I was actually pretty excited to run beforehand. My time was about 30 seconds slower than usual, but it wasn’t really a fast course and I still ran pretty well.”
Hoelzel, who was an all-Ohioan as a freshman in 2018 and the Lady Tigers’ one runner at the 2019 state meet, said this year’s regional meet was bittersweet. Finishing eighth in the team standings, Chagrin Falls was just seven points shy of making it out.
“I’m proud of our team. We gave it our best shot,” she said. “But I’m super excited that two of us get to go on to states. And that (Boardman) course is really tough. Just like any other year, we go out, we give it our best shot and we either move on or are excited for next year.”
Hoelzel said she got out of the gates and ran the first mile pretty determined, but the rest of her race wasn’t her strongest performance.
The mud didn’t help with heavy legs as the race progressed, but Hoelzel said her main goal was just to finish in the top 24 and advance.
“During the race, I could hear the spectators counting up to 24 and cheering for people and saying, ‘Oh, you’re 23, 24,’” she said. “So, I knew where I was. I knew I was 23, 24, 25. And I knew that if I wanted to go to states, I would need top 24. So, I really tried to push it during the last kilometer or so, even thought it was a really tough race and I was feeling really tired.”
Also scoring team points for Chagrin, freshman molly Longo finished 39th in 21:48.5, junior Claire Coffey took 47th in 21:55.0 and junior Wren Opperman was 55th in 22:13.8.
While freshman frontrunner Mila Gresh isn’t new to the sport – she ran in middle school last year – she said she wouldn’t have adapted to the competitiveness of varsity cross-country and developed into the Lady Tigers’ one runner without the support of her teammates.
“My strategy is always to kind of pace myself with my teammates, because I know their times and they know my times compared to theirs,” she said. “So, I’m probably going to try to go out with Rose in this state meet, and from then on just keep a consistent pace and try to pass as many jerseys as I can.”
Gresh and Hoelzel will compete at the Division II state meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fortress Obetz, on the south side of Columbus.