Middletown’s Conant Smith set a course record Saturday in the Division I district race at Cedarville Univeristy. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

Despite postponement, meet conflict, area runners focused on state

The date has changed for the high school cross country state championships. But for area high school cross country coaches the goal still remains the same – competing and attempting to win a state championship.

Standing water on the National Trail Raceway course near Hebron, located just east of Columbus, led the Ohio High School Athletic Association to postpone the three division, six-race event scheduled for Saturday to Nov. 10 at National Trail Raceway.

That puts the OHSAA state championship in conflict with the Nike Cross Regionals Midwest (NXR) on Nov. 11 in Terre Haute, Ind. Beavercreek and Centerville’s girls teams, both nationally ranked, planned on running in Terre Haute to qualify for the Nike nationals. The NXR Midwest includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri.

“We’re going to focus on the state meet,” Beavercreek coach Howard Russ said. “We had a meeting (Thursday) and the number one goal was always a state championship. Nike, we’ll figure that out later.

“I don’t think for any kid, for health reasons, that it’s safe mentally and physically to try and race (state and NXR) in less than 24 hours. I don’t know about Nike right now. … It’s not really fair for Taylor (Ewert) or any of our girls to race at our top level and try to go race another 24 hours later against the best from the midwest. I worry about their health.”

Tim Stried, director of communications at the OHSAA, said heavy rains – and the forecast of more through Friday – left as much as eight inches of standing water throughout the course. Stried said some of the water stretched the length of a football field.

“There’s a lot of standing water and it’s only getting worse,” Stried said. “It’s not just muddy. We’ll run through mud. We’ve done that before. We’ve run through snow. But we have several areas of the course that are under water. … It’s not just a puddle here and there. It’s like a 100-yard stretch. It is truly a situation where – as painful as it is to have to postpone it a week – it would be dangerous to run six races at that facility on Saturday.”

More than 12,000 spectators attend the state championships. Many of the parking spaces on are on grass.

Moving the state meet to another site or running it Sunday if the water drained has been asked often on social media.

“If we could have done that we would have,” Stried said.

Relocating the state meet – perhaps to Cedarville University’s NCAA-approved site – would require schools and supporters to adjust hotel reservations, among other travel concerns. Spectator sight lines (there are no grandstands) and no fencing around Cedarville’s course to funnel spectators through ticket booths would also be potential obstacles on short notice.

“I saw pics of the (Natinal Trail Raceway) course and it did look a little rough,” said Shawnee coach Brian DeSantis, whose boys and girls teams qualified for state. “But we’re cross country runners and our kids are prepared to run in all kinds of conditions, except lightning.

“I’m kind of surprised the state of Ohio didn’t have a contingency plan for something like this. Instead they move it back a week? I would think there could be option B: There’s a lot of rain coming so be prepared this might be your new venue.”

Like Russ, Centerville girls coach David Dobson and Middletown boys coach David Fultz are deciding whether to run both the state and Nike meet on back-to-back days. All three coaches are leaning toward state only.

“Our number one goal is state,” Fultz said, referring to senior Conant Smith. Smith enters the D-I boys meet as one of the favorites. “Two back-to-back all out 5Ks is going to be rough.”

Added Dobson: “Our sport is already very mental. But everybody is presented with the same challenge of being delayed a week. I’m glad I wasn’t one of the people in the room making the decision, but I’m sure they weren’t doing it to be frustrating to coaches. They had to do what’s best.”

The early forecast for next weekend calls for highs in the upper 40s, but no rain.

Even with Saturday’s postponement there’s no guarantee next week will be dry, something the OHSAA considered. Stried said the day after last year’s meet rain left standing water on the course, too. The tournament manager took photos and monitored how the water drained. It remained on the course for days.

“It was not good,” Stried said, adding if the rain had come in the days leading up to the state meet the 2017 meet would have been postponed, too.

“It was a very tough decision. But massive areas of standing water is a lot different than running in mud or puddles.”

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