Thomas Worthington’s top three runners stopped the watch before any Solon harriers during Ohio’s first cross-country meet of the season on Saturday at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron, just east of Columbus.
That trio from Worthington went three-seven-eight among 291 runners from 32 teams in the field. The Solon boys, without a clear No. 1, appeared to be in a race for second in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Early Season Invitational on the same course where the state championships will be held on Nov. 2.
While the Comets graduated Logan Esper, an individual state qualifier who finished 25th at the 2018 Division I championships to earn all-Ohio status, they returned their other six runners who competed on their regional team from a year ago.
And although Worthington had the best top-three runners in the field, Solon and Kenston’s No. 4 and No. 5 harriers had a lot to say about where the top three teams placed on Saturday.
“At this point, we don’t have a clear No. 1 runner,” Solon third-year head coach Matt Wieczorek said. “We just had a really tight pack. So, how good that pack is, is going to determine how good we end up being this year. I mean, our four and five just have to be better than everybody else’s four-five.
“If you look at what Worthington did, they put three guys in the top 10, and they took third in the meet. They went three-seven-eight, and our No. 1 guy was ninth. So, they were beating us through three guys.”
Solon senior Matthew Costanzo finished ninth in 16:47.4 on the 5-kilometer course, while Comet No. 5 runner, senior Kareem Yousef, finished 22nd in 17:10.1 for just a 22.7-second gap among the Comet scorers. Worthington’s No. 5 runner finished 57th in 17:44.7.
With the best one-through-five scorers in the field, the Solon boys won the team title with 73 points, besting runner-up Kenston, 98 points, third-place Worthington, 125 points, and the rest of the field, which included five programs from last year’s Division I state meet. Reigning Division I state runner-up Hilliard Davidson took fifth with 235 points.
In a similar boat as Solon, Kenston graduated its No. 1 runner in Jakob McConnell, now at Stetson University, not to mention its No. 2 runner in Kyle Silk from last year’s state team.
“We’ve lost the best runner I’ve had a chance to coach, and another really good runner, who both qualified for the state meet three times in their four years at Kenston,” 13th-year coach Chris Ickes said. “So, we definitely knew we had to reload, and they have worked incredibly hard to put together potentially our best team at Kenston during my coaching tenure.”
Part of the Bombers’ reload includes much- improved senior David Rosinski, who took fourth overall in 16:31.1 on Saturday. He was the Bombers’ No. 3 runner at last year’s state meet.
Dublin Jerome senior Elliot Cook won Saturday’s race in 15:57.6, on the heels of an all-Ohio finish in 11th during the 2018 state meet. He is the fourth-best returning runner in Division I, after Pickerington North senior Matt Duvall, Uniontown Lake junior Nathan Moore and University School senior Justin Iler.
Following in Solon’s pack order led by Costanzo, meanwhile, junior Nate Close took 11th in 16:52.5, senior Sam Young was 13th in 17:02.1, senior Aden Pickus finished 18th in 17:06.4, and previously mentioned No. 5 runner Yousef took 22nd in 17:10.1.
Meanwhile, junior Johnny Ciccero was 27th in 17:18.1, sophomore Ryan Goldfeder finished 29th in 17:22.9, and junior Josh Baker was 46th in 17:35.0 to round out the Comets’ top eight. And freshman James Howell turned some heads with his runner-up finish in the JV race in 18:16.2.
Costanzo, Close and Young have consistently been Solon’s top three guys leading up to the first race of the season, coach Wieczorek said. But Costanzo, specifically, is a paradigm of the multi-year progression Wieczorek set forth when he took over the program in 2017.
Yes, Costanzo opened the season as Solon’s No. 1 harrier, but he wasn’t even in the Comets’ postseason lineup that included an eighth-place showing at regionals in 2018, missing out on states by two points.
“His PR last year was (17:34) at Tiffin,” Wieczorek said. “Consistently last year, he was probably like an 18-minute guy. I mean, he’s just one of the best examples of, if you put in the work, it works. And he has really just worked his (butt) off for a year and made himself better. I mean, he’s run 70-, 80-, 90-mile weeks for a year. So, he’s looked that good all summer.”
Also out for some unfinished business, Pickus was Solon’s No. 4 runner at districts last year but caught a cold and did not race at regionals. And Ciccero had a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him for most of 2018.
“We were really falling apart at the regional meet last year,” Wieczorek said. “I didn’t know what to do. You know, (Ciccero) was getting a lot better, but he hadn’t broken 18 (minutes) yet and had only raced three times. Sam Young did not run districts but ran regionals. At the time, he was just saying his foot was bothering him, but he had a stress fracture and ended up being in a boot. And (Pickus) got a cold like the Sunday after the district meet, and it was still Friday, and he wasn’t feeling 100 percent.”
Coming up short on start berths the last two seasons, after winning the Division I team title in 2016, the Comet harriers have big expectations for themselves this fall, the coach said.
“The kids are just really bought in, and that’s the biggest difference for us this season, is the senior class has done a much better job of leading the team, and so many guys are on the same page about putting in the work and working together to help each other get better,” Wieczorek said.
Also out to make a point this season, Kenston’s success at the OHSAA Invite came on the doubts of opposing coaches who think the Bombers would be lucky to make it out of districts come October, coach Ickes said.
While the Kenston boys also had a pack mentality without a clear No. 1 entering the first race of the season, Rosinski sure looked the part on Saturday, Ickes said.
“If you look at our workouts, there’s always seven, eight, nine guys that are running similar times in our intervals, that are sticking together on distance days,” he said. “And I think really any one of those seven, eight, nine guys are capable of being our No. 1.
“However, (Rosinski) was with those guys at the 2-mile mark, and his last mile he just drew from experience and pushed himself to a brand-new place. Seeing his last mile really opened my eyes. I think he was eighth or ninth at the 2-mile mark, finished in fourth, and not only did he finish in fourth but it was the way he did it. He surged away from competitors, and he just absolutely dominated the last mile. Seeing that tells me today he’s our No. 1.”
Following Rosinski’s lead, junior Garrett McConnell took 17th in 17:06.3, junior Dennis Princic was 19th in 17:06.6, junior Max Reardon finished 25th in 17:13.5, and junior Jack Turk was 33rd in 17:26.3 to score for the Bombers, while senior Casey Pleune took 39th in 17:29.9, junior Tyler McMahan was 47th in 17:37.2, and junior Nathan Bertman finished 50th in 17:41.5 to round out Kenston’s top eight.
Turk and Pleune were scorers for Kenston at the 2018 state meet, while Princic is another example of hard work works, and Reardon is a transfer from Newbury.
“That’s one thing Solon and Kenston share in common: We both have an aerobic-based program that focuses on long-term progression,” Ickes said. “I look at a guy like Dennis Princic, I think his PR last year was an 18:15, and he ran a 17:06 (on Saturday) on a very slow course with long grass in the heat.
“But Dennis has worked hard. And, if you look at our top-seven runners or any of our boys that raced, every single one of those boys have run year-round, and they really emphasize being a pack. They really emphasize being a team.”
While the Bombers don’t have a lot of outside hype for 2019, after graduating the elder McConnell and Silk, they’re used to being underrated.
Kenston wasn’t ranked in the top 20 of the pre-district or pre-regional coaches poll last season and then were ranked to finish dead last entering the Division I state meet – the Bombers had the last laugh.
“The week before (opening this season), we had some opposing coaches explicitly say that we weren’t going to be very good,” Ickes said. “And our boys knew that, and they knew how much work they put in over the summer, and they knew how much they like fighting for each other.
“So, I think knowing that maybe they were counted out and maybe people looked at us as just being Jakob McConnell last year, that really lit a fire under them to just say, hey, we could be the best Kenston’s had, and we’re going to do the best to show everybody that you shouldn’t overlook us.”