It came down to four points in a loaded field, but the Hawken School girls cross-country team secured the final spot out of regionals during the Division II race on Saturday at Boardman.
Propelled by a pair of all-Ohioan seniors up front and a pair of rookies as their three and four runners, the Lady Hawks put together a one-nine-29-43-90 finish from their front five runners to score 172 points for sixth, edging Poland Seminary, 176 points, and Chagrin Falls, 179 points, in the 20-team field.
The Hawken girls are now set to return to the big dance as a team for the third time in four years, after missing out by one spot by finishing seventh at last year’s regional meet.
“I’m very excited and happy for the team, especially since it’s my last year as a senior and I really wanted the team to make it,” Juliana Metz said. “As a senior leader, I’ve just been telling them that I know we can make it and I was really happy to see it play out.”
Metz, who finished ninth overall in 20:15.4 on the 5-kilometer course, is a three-time all-Ohioan and Ohio State commit who left little doubt that she’d make a fourth straight trip to states with a top-24 individual showing at the regional meet.
But, according to the Division II coaches poll, Hawken as a team was ranked No. 19 in the state and favored to repeat a seventh-place showing on Saturday at Boardman.
Hawken senior Ella Gilson coasted to her third straight regional crown in 19:11.4 on a muddy course, besting her nearest competition by 26.4 seconds, but she wasn’t awarded extra for her margin of victory.
Instead, the Lady Hawks relied upon freshmen Elena Padley, who finished 29th in 21:19.6, and Camilla Mari, who finished 43rd in 21:49.6, to outperform their ranking and secure that sixth spot out.
And senior Lena Sylvan, who was on Hawken’s 2018 state team, finished 90th in 23:09.3 as the Lady Hawks’ fifth scorer, while freshman Sofia Boyd, 23:21.4, and junior Gaby Montero, 24:23.2, registered solid performances as six and seven runners in the varsity lineup.
“It means so much to us to make it as a team to states,” said Gilson, the two-time defending state champion who is committed to Harvard. “I know for me, Juliana, Lena and Valerie (Laurianti), the seniors, we really wanted this.
“And we have three freshmen in our lineup this year, and we were just really trying to motivate them the whole year and tell them that we knew we could do it as a team, and they all really showed up. We all did what we had to do to accomplish that goal.”
With the course conditions not optimal, the top-24 cutoff for an individual state berth was 20:54.8, much slower than the 20:06.44 cutoff from a year ago at Boardman.
For Metz, who’s known to have her best performances on the big stage at states, she said the focus was to run a bit conservative around the mud on turns and not risk injury or falling down.
“It’s been raining pretty much all week,” Metz said. “So, there was a lot of mud. I tried to avoid it and go the longer way around, but that probably didn’t help me because I had to run extra and it slowed me. Next weekend, I’m not going to do that.”
The Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross-country championships will be hosted at a new venue this season, Fortess Obetz, on the south side of Columbus, where the girls Division II race will start at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The past three seasons, Gilson and Metz ran their state races at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron, where Gilson won the 2018 and 2019 state titles.
“Honestly, I like being on new courses and being at different places,” Gilson said. “At least for me, for cross-country, I kind of like the feeling of not being used to it, because it puts me in a different mindset that gets me more focused on my race. It gets me in a different mode and a different zone, so I honestly like being on different courses. So, I’m excited to try it out.”
In the Division II boys regional competition, meanwhile, Hawken freshman Nick Garcia-Whitko finished 19th in 17:43.3 among 147 harriers in the field to punch his individual ticket to the state meet. He will run at noon on Saturday.