When it comes to state cross-country championships, the hype of the past four seasons has been all about the Kenston boys over in Bainbridge and Auburn townships.
The 2020 conversation will now feature both the boys and the girls teams, as the Lady Bombers actually one-upped their male counterparts with a Division I regional runner-up finish on Saturday at Boardman High School. The Kenston boys finished third.
With the Kenston harriers merging under a coed umbrella four years with head coach Chris Ickes, who had coached exclusively the boys team for the previous decade, the Lady Bombers finally seem to have some intra-squad bragging rights to carry along after Saturday’s regional performance.
“It’s an honor to be able to coach both the boys and the girls,” Ickes said. “If you look at all the best programs in the state, and we start with Woodridge, they’re coed. Locally, Chagrin Falls has had a lot of success, and they’re coed.
“I think it helps all of the athletes to be able to feed off of each other. They’re able to see each team progress with a little bit of friendly competition between the genders and they’re able to have double the support. To see them both be ranked in the top 10 of the state of Ohio, it’s just amazing. I think they have a lot to prove this next weekend. As a school, we’re ready to take on anybody in the state.”
The Lady Bombers entered Saturday’s regional meet ranked No. 5 in the state coaches poll, but the top three teams had about as tight of a race as there could be with 24 programs in the field.
Behind a nine-12-30-37-57 finish from their front five runners, the Kenston girls scored 145 points, which was bested only by Hudson, 143 points, while Shaker Heights was third with 149 points. Had two of Kenston’s scorers finished one place better, the Lady Bombers would have taken the title by way of its sixth runner.
Nonetheless, the Lady Bombers had their program’s best showing in regional competition with sophomore Cece Paglia finishing ninth in the team race in 20:00.0 and freshman Emerson Greene taking 12th in 20:10.5.
Garnering top-32 finishes in the overall race, which included 183 harriers, both Paglia and Greene would have punched individual tickets to states had Kenston not qualified as a team.
“I knew I had to stay with the front pack to kind of get us a step forward to get us closer to states,” Paglia said. “And I knew if I stayed up with them and I could keep up with them, that would lead me to a good place towards the end of the race, which is something I haven’t really done before. I usually gradually get up, but I knew what I had to do for the team.”
Mentor sophomore Savannah Dennison won the individual title in 19:30.5 on a slow, muddy course Saturday. The cutoff for a top-32 finish was 20:38.0, whereas it was a much faster 19:50.52 last season.
Chardon senior Andrea Mann finished 11th overall in 20:05.3 to book her return trip to the big dance. It was the third straight week Mann and Kenston’s Paglia were in close races, after also going head-to-head at districts and the Western Reserve Conference meet.
“Usually we sort of start off together and one of us kind of takes on the other one to go further ahead,” Paglia said. “My goal wasn’t really to get with her this last race, but, when we end up close, we’re really good at pushing each other through.”
Kenston’s Greene, meanwhile, was the lone freshman on the course for the Lady Bombers on Saturday. She’s bounced around in Kenston’s front four all season but was the fastest two runner in the field at Boardman.
Greene actually scored better for her team in regional competition, 12 points, than she did in district competition, 13 points, the previous week.
“Coming out of districts, I knew the competition was going to get tougher because all the teams we raced against were really good,” Greene said. “So, we made a plan to work together and run for each other.”
After the Kenston girls finished 10th at regionals in 2019, Greene proved to be that missing piece the Lady Bombers needed to take the next step. The six other Lady Bombers in the field on Saturday all had previous regional experience from a year ago.
“Joining this team, it was really just amazing to be a part of it because all the girls, and boys, they’re just inspiring,” Greene said. “And when we found out we finished second, we were really excited. Hudson and Shaker Heights are really good teams, and we were just so happy to be able to go to states with the boys this year with both teams together.”
Also scoring for the Lady Bombers, sophomore Paige Masson finished 30th in 20:43.3, senior Ellie Pleune, an individual state qualifier the past three seasons, took 37th in 21:00.2 and junior Jenny Kapcio was 57th in 21:15.7, while juniors Katie Klotz, 21:38.3, and Jocelyn Van Skyhock, 22:33.0, also performed well.
Up next, the Lady Bombers will make their first Division I state appearance at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fortress Obetz, on the south side of Columbus.
The Kenston girls previous state berths – in 1987, 1990 and 2004 – all came in Division II. The last time both the Kenston boys and girls competed at states together was in 1990.