West Geauga junior Patrick Garrett was on pace to become the first male cross-country runner from his program to punch a state ticket in 20 years, but he was cutting it close during the Division II regional meet on Saturday in Boardman.

The last time the Wolverine harriers were represented at the big dance was in 1999, when Jeremy Van Dress finished 30th overall in 16:46.

Garrett, who wasn’t even on West Geauga’s postseason squad a year ago, clocked a 17:03.38 to finish Saturday’s race in 24th for the final spot out of the region by 4.51 seconds on the 5-kilometer course. There were 155 runners in the field.

“I came through and I didn’t know, but I found out and was pretty excited,” he said. “But it’s a bit of a bittersweet victory, I guess, because we were hoping to make it as a team for the first time ever. But overall I’m pretty excited.”

The West Geauga boys finished 10th as a team with 255 points from their front five runners, while Cloverleaf took sixth to get the final spot out of the region with 228 points.

The only Wolverines with regional experience from a year ago were juniors Kenneth Kirk and John Patterson.

“I may have gone out a little bit too hard, because, with about a mile to go, I started feeling it,” Garrett said. “And then with about 800 to go, my legs were really killing me. And then I could hear people yelling, like, ‘Twenty-three, 24, 25,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, man.’ I just kept telling myself that I’ve got to push through this if I want to get there. So, I did that and I just lucked out, got the last spot.”

Garrett said his first mile split was a 5:12, which was the fastest he’s ever taken out a race. And to be on a tough course like Boardman, where hills and turns are plentiful, it’s easy to run short on gas in the latter parts of the race

Garrett said the mental fortitude to push through was like no other.

“I could tell that I went out a little bit too fast at about halfway through the race, but what can you do?” he said. “I just had to keep going. I like to think that if you’re running next to someone, they’re hurting just as bad as you are and you’ve just got to want it more than they do. I was trying to rely on my foot speed, but there wasn’t really much left. That was the most I ever hurt.”

In the girls race, meanwhile, West Geauga sophomore Grace Gyetko, also making her region debut, finished 14th in 19:42.98 to punch her ticket to states with a 23.46-second cushion among 151 runners in the field

Gyetko is the first Lady Wolverine to advance to the big dance since Deanna Swinerton and Olivia Conley finished 24th and 30th, respectively, in 2016.

“It was definitely a tough course and one of the hilliest I’ve personally done,” Gyetko said of Boardman. “I really was looking to just push myself to try to get in that top 24. I wanted to try and run my own race, because that’s something I’ve been working on, to not rely on other people to push me along.

“So, yeah, the competition was tough. The course was tough. But it was definitely fun.”

As a team, the West Geauga girls finished 14th, but they had a young lineup of two juniors, four sophomores and one freshman on the course.

Staying patient out of the gates, Gyetko was out of state-berth position through the majority of her race with more of a sit-and-kick strategy, she said.

“I think I was in the 30s after the first mile,” she said. “The second mile I started to pick it up a little bit, and the last mile is normally my strongest spot, so I had started to get people with about 1,000 meters left. I think I was 25th or 24th at 800 (meters left), and then I just started passing people at the end there.”

While some runners like to take out their races strong to get in a rhythm and hold their pace, others prefer more of an adrenaline rush that is associated with reeling opponents in during the back part of their race.

“It’s a different feeling than I’ve ever felt before,” Gyetko said of picking off 10 runners in the final 800 meters. “A lot of adrenaline. It just keeps coming.”

Garrett and Gyetko will compete among the state’s best on Saturday at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron. The Division II girls race at 11:45 a.m., and the Division II boys race at 2:15 p.m.

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