In its seventh edition, the Kenston Frank Gibas cross-country invitational keeps getting bigger and bigger, meaning the competition is getting stiffer and stiffer.
The inaugural meet featured eight varsity squads in 2013 and grew to the participation of 30 schools in the girls 5-kilometer race Saturday morning on the Lady Bombers’ home course in Bainbridge Township.
And for the fifth straight year, the girls have has crowned a new team champion. In 2019, it was the host Kenston girls who secured their first squad victory with a 12-13-15-16-26 finish from their top five harriers to score 82 points, besting runner-up Green, 119, and third-place Beaumont, 127 points.
“Obviously, I think we all were really mentally aware of the course, and we all supported each other,” Kenston sophomore Jocelyn Van Skyhock said. “Coach (Chris) Ickes gave us some great talks and made us confident with ourselves and our racing strategies.
“And teamwork has really been a huge thing. Cece (Paglia) pushed me through the second mile. I don’t think I could have raced as well as I did without her pacing me. Also, our workouts are specially made for us and beneficial to each of us as a runner.”
Paglia, a freshman, finished 12th in 19:35.0 to lead the Lady Bombers among 230 varsity runners in the field, while Van Skyhock was right behind her in in 19:35.7, sophomore Jenny Kapcio took 15th in 18:43.3, junior Ellie Pleune was 16th in 19:43.6 and freshman Paige Masson finished 26th in 20:24.5 for a non-senior scoring lineup.
Also turning in top performances for the Kenston girls, sophomore Katie Klotz was 45th in 20:57.7, senior Sarah Bennett crossed the line in 22:01.7, junior Summer Davidson ran a 22:03.9, junior Amelia Witmer-Rich stopped the watch at 22:06.2 and freshman Gianna Iosue clocked a 22:14.1.
“We know we’re not doing it for ourselves; we’re doing it for our team and each other,” Van Skyhock said. “And Cece and I usually do our workouts together, so we knew we had the strength and the fitness to run with each other. And through the first mile, we were like, ‘We’re going really fast.’ And then, once we got through the second mile, we knew we were almost done, and we were just saying, ‘We’re getting our first title, and we’re doing it for the girls.”
Entering the race, Kenston was ranked No. 13 among Division I program in the first Ohio Association of Track and Country-Country Coaches state poll.
Last year, the Lady Bombers finished their campaign 12th at regionals, although Pleune punched her individual ticket to states.
With Kenston’s top four runners within 8.6 seconds of one another on Saturday, it was a rare position for Pleune to be in the fourth spot for her team, but that just means she’s going to be pushed that much harder in preparation for the postseason this fall.
“It was different when Cece and I passed Ellie,” Van Skyhock said. “We both looked at each other, like, ‘What is going on?’ And we were like, ‘C’mon, Ellie. You’ve got this.’ And Ellie always has good races. So, we’re just waiting for our next race.”
Third-place Beaumont entered the invite ranked No. 6 in the state among Division II programs, and the Lady Blue Streaks went one-two with senior Mia Mlynek clocking an 18:44.0 and senior Addison Ciecierski crossing the line in 18:51.7 on Saturday.
Leading the Solon girls, sophomore Ellie Radis finished fourth in 19:15.7 to pace the Lady Comets to fifth in the team standings. Also scoring, sophomore Jada Freeman took 11th in 19:33.8, freshman Sarah Baker was 39th in 20:50.3, freshman Angie Getz finished 51st in 21:09.8 and sophomore Jessie Kwiatkowski was 76th in 21:46.4.
Other top performers for the Solon girls were junior Emily Schneider, 21:59.1, and sophomore Jessica Jenkins, 22:17.9.
The Chagrin Falls girls, meanwhile, took ninth as a team, with sophomore Rose Hoelzel, a returning all-Ohioan, finishing sixth in 19:20.2, senior Hannah Clark taking 17th in 19:55.2, sophomore Claire Stinson finishing 66th in 21:33.4, junior Madeleine Scott stopping the watch at 21:53.9 for 84th and senior Eliza Clark crossing the line in 22:04.2 for 93rd.
Rounding out top runs for the Lady Tigers were senior Jenna Mrofchak, 22:44.2, sophomore Aubree Daugherty, 22:48.0, and junior Tallulah Haskett, 22:51.4.