Kenston senior Nathan Bertman was the Bombers’ one runner at regionals on Saturday at Boardman.

Nathan Bertman who?

A short three years ago, the Kenston cross-country runner was topping out at 22:57 on a 5-kilometer course.

Sophomore season, he cracked the 19-minute barrier, which would make the varsity lineup for most high school programs.

Junior season, he broke 17 minutes and earned a spot on Kenston’s postseason squad, first as the Bombers’ seven runner at districts, then their six runner at regionals, and, finally, he scored as five man at the 2019 Division I state meet. Kenston finished sixth as a team.

Catching the trend? Because Bertman is not waiting for you.

Now a senior, Bertman was the Bombers’ one runner during the Division I regional meet on Saturday at Boardman, where the Kenston boys finished third as a team to punch their fifth consecutive ticket to the big dance.

“Coaching and culture,” Bertman said about the Kenston boys program becoming a perennial power. “Coach (Chris) Ickes is cutting-edge with everything he does and every decision he makes for training. And with that he creates a really strong culture. Along with that, six out of the top seven at Kenston, we’re seniors. So, we’re a really close-knit group.”

Despite slow course conditions on Saturday, with only six guys breaking the 17-minute barrier, compared to 47 guys who did so in 2019, Bertman led Kenston with a 17:15.2 to finish 19th among 192 runners in the field. The top 32 finishers automatically qualified for states as individuals.

Remember, Bertman is the guy who was running 22:57 as a freshman in 2017. But his hard work led him to become Kenston’s one man for the first time in his career on Saturday.

“I finally had my breakout race,” Bertman said. “It felt really good. I just kept pushing through the hard parts, and I just really, really wanted to help push the team forward. Personally, that’s what meant the most to me – to keep passing people to help the team. So, it felt really good afterwards. It was just kind of tough hearing we couldn’t pull through for the win.”

Entering the meet ranked No. 7 in the Division I state coaches poll, the Bombers put together a 16-21-32-37-49 showing from their front five runners to score 155 points and finish third in the team standings, bested by champion Hudson, 116 points, and runner-up St. Ignatius, 148 points, in the 24-team field.

The 2019 Bombers were regional champs, but coach Ickes said his harriers are no longer training for regional titles or state berths.

“Our boys were flat this week,” Ickes said. “They have a lot of miles on their legs, and for those miles to come off and turn into speed sometimes takes one more week. And it was really comforting going into this knowing that we were confident we were going to qualify.

“So, we didn’t have to stress and take these miles off earlier. I think they’re going to have their best race next week (at states). I think they’ll be tapered and peaked and mentally rested and ready to put on the best show.”

A positive takeaway from regionals for the Bombers was that it wasn’t just one or two guys who didn’t show up. Their front five guys still ran as a pack with just a 30.4-second spread, indicating they’re all on the same page as far as their training goes.

Kenston senior Dennis Princic, who won a district title in 16:00.0 the previous week, finished 24th overall – 21st in the team race – in 17:20.3 for an automatic qualification as an individual for the second straight year.

“The seven of us just want to keep making history,” Princic said. “A win would have been nice, but we did what we had to do. In the end, we lost to two good teams. But we survived, we’re going to states next week, and that’s when hopefully we’ll see our best performances.

“We got sixth place last year, and we returned five of our top seven runners. Ever since then, we’ve had a state championship on our mind.”

Also scoring for the Kenston boys in the team race at regionals, senior Jack Turk turned it up in the second half of his race to finish 32nd in 17:34.9, senior Owen Orlowski took 47th in 17:37.8 and senior Garrett McConnell was 49th in 17:45.6, while senior Tyler McMahan, 17:55.8, and junior Braden Hunt, 18.17.2, weren’t far behind.

Orlowski, in particular, snuck into Kenston’s postseason lineup with a solid performance during the Western Reserve Conference meet two weeks prior and scored for the varsity Bombers for the first time at regionals.

Punching an individual state ticket from University School, meanwhile, senior Griffin Walsh clocked a 17:07.2 to finish ninth overall.

Uniontown Lake senior Nathan Moore won the individual title in 16:26.2.

Up next, the Kenston boys and Walsh will compete in the Division I state meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at Fortress Obetz, on the south side of Columbus.

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