Kenston put six harriers on the course who never ran 5 kilometers in competition, but the Lady Bombers more than held their own against much of the state’s best on Saturday at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron.

In their season opener, the Kenston cross-country girls ran five freshmen and no seniors during the Ohio High School Athletic Association Early Season Invitational, which was hosted at the same venue where the state championships will be held on Nov. 2.

With two of those freshmen representing scoring positions for the Lady Bombers, Kenston finished eighth in a field of 31 Division I programs, 11 of which competed in last year’s the state championships.

Overall, the Lady Bombers defeated six teams that were state qualifiers in 2018.

“We will definitely be growing as the year goes on,” Kenston third-year head coach Chris Ickes said. “So, to see the girls go out and perform as well as they did, most of them running the first 5K of their life, that was very encouraging. I think that they have a ton of talent and they’re really starting to figure out what it means to work, and now they understand what a 5K feels like. I think they’ll only get better after they get three or four of those under their belt.”

Leading the Lady Bombers out front, junior Ellie Pleune, a returning individual state qualifier, clocked 20:22.1 to finish 32nd among 282 runners, including four returning all-Ohioans and 44 harriers with state experience from a year ago.

Toledo Notre Dame Academy senior Lauryn Mick won Saturday’s race in a blistering 18:40.3, on the heels of finishing seventh at last year’s big dance.

Joining Pleune as scorers for Kenston, freshman Cece Paglia finished 36th in 20:29.0, sophomore Jocelyn Van Skyhock was 55th in 21:07.5, freshman Paige Masson took 64th in 21:20.6 and sophomore Katie Klotz was 85th in 22:02.7.

Meanwhile, junior Amelia Witmer-Rich, 22:40.7, as well as freshmen Gianna Iosue, 23:23.0, Eden Truax, 23:35.9, Madeline Ramsey, 23:50.4, and Jadon Van Skyhock rounded out Kenston’s varsity squad of nine.

Although No. 2 runner Paglia finished just 6.9 seconds behind Pleune, the Kenston duo ran separate races, Ickes said.

“Ellie Pleune has been to that course before, although they did change the layout a little bit,” the coach said. “She’s familiar with how challenging it is, and she went out there and ran a pretty solid race the entire time. (Paglia), as a freshman, was a little bit farther back from Ellie at the mile mark, and she just kept trying to pick it up, pick it up.”

On Saturday, Pleune defeated 17 runners who beat her during last year’s state meet.

One of the focuses for the younger Kenston girls was to experience the pain of a 5K and, whenever that pain got really bad, to try to push through that and just keep resetting their baseline for what pain is, Ickes said.

“Cece (Paglia), out of every athlete that ran, really excelled in that manner,” he said. “She came through with about a quarter mile left, and you knew she was hurting; she was almost in tears because she was pushing herself to her limits and she just dug down and kept accelerating, accelerating. Her last mile was her best mile. So, I’m just excited to see, maybe next time she starts her first mile a little bit faster up with Ellie and has a little more confidence.”

Kenston graduated previous No. 2 runner Kathryn Taylor from last year’s region team, while the elder Van Skyhock and Klotz return as the No. 3 and No. 4 harriers from that postseason lineup. Despite only being sophomores, Van Skyhock and Klotz will need to perform like veterans for the young Lady Bombers, Ickes said.

Varsity rookie Masson, meanwhile, was a middle school state track and field qualifier in the 200- and 400-meter dashes in the spring and now is testing her distance legs.

“She has a lot of strength mentally and physically that she’s going to be able to adapt really well to the 5K,” Ickes said. “The nice thing about her being able to adapt is then that’s just going to make her track times even better and even stronger. But I don’t think she’s just a participant. I think she’s out to really do the absolute best that she can. Based on the little bit that I’ve gotten to work with her so far, I think the sky’s the limit on her potential.”

Meanwhile, Kenston senior Sarah Bennett and sophomore Jenny Kapcio, both of whom were on the Lady Bombers’ postseason lineup last year, did not compete on Saturday but certainly will compete in varsity races this season, Ickes said.

With such a young squad that will have the ability to learn on the fly every Saturday, Ickes said his main focus is getting to know his runners better.

“The more we learn about who they are as people, what they like to do besides running, what other types of things make them excited, the better we can tailor their training and the better we can tailor their psychology and their race tactics and all the other things that go into our sport,” he said. “We will definitely be growing as the year goes on.”

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