Centerville senior Ben Burkett had finished the challenging, obstacle-filled Mason Invitational cross country course. He stood talking to family still drenched from the persistent rain and a fall into a swollen creek. His Elks’ uniform was still carrying some of the course with him thanks to the muddy conditions and the dreaded, steep climb known as Mulch Hill.
But through it all he also carried his smile. And a third-place medal following a frantic, all-out sprint to the finish.
Burkett finished third in 16 minutes, 16.8 seconds on the 3.1-mile course covering Mason High School’s sprawling campus. Middletown senior and Division I state title favorite Conant Smith won the meet in 15:47.6.
Burkett and Dublin Coffman junior Alex Dediu followed Smith with a spirited sprint to the finish, with Dediu edging Burkett by 0.3 seconds.
“I knew Conant would be running so I tried to stick with him the first mile,” Burkett said. “Then I had a little bit of a fall. It knocked the wind out of me a little bit but I felt like I raced pretty well. At the end I got passed, but I felt like I raced it well.”
Burkett’s fall came as he entered the creek crossing. The water reached knee to mid-thigh on most competitors, who exited the creek and right up Mulch Hill.
“Coming out of the woods I felt like I could have been quite a bit faster and raced a little better. Overall I’m not too upset about it.” Burkett said.
“You don’t see hay bales. You don’t see knee-deep creeks. And you don’t see steep mulch hills. It’s one of the most fun courses out there.”
Centerville, ranked No. 6 in the D-I state poll, finished 11th in the 22-team, big-school division. After Burkett came a pack of Elks runners with sophomore Ammer Reid, freshman Jacob Spaulding, sophomore Bill Monroe and sophomore Justin Davidson all finishing between 65th and 76th. The Elks graduated three seniors from last year’s top seven runners who finished eighth in the D-I state meet.
“We lost some good seniors last year but we have some really good underclassmen who are improving this year,” Burkett said. “For the postseason meets I think we’ll be strong and be where we want to be. … I feel like I can be a strong leader. I think people know our mission and – not to be cocky – they see people like me (as motivation) and I think I can help them achive our team goal.”
While chasing Burkett serves as the Elks motivation, Burkett does the same with Middletown’s Smith.
“Whenever I see him at races it does motivate me. I kind of feed off his energy because he’s one of the top performers in the state,” Burkett said. “It’s always good to be there with him and know he’s not too, too far out of my range and I can pace with him a little bit.”
Burkett’s personal best is 15:37 set at a meet in Pennsylvania last season. That’s about 12 seconds off the school record.
“If I could get that, that’s definitely my main goal,” Burkett said. “I’m trying to hit that.
Also at Mason, Miamisburg’s boys finished fifth overall and were paced by senior Parker Hines in 18th (16:54). Carroll junior Grant Allen (seventh; 16:29.7) and Springboro junior Alex Berardi (eighth; 16:30.7) cracked the top 10 with Burkett.
Oakwood freshman Grace Hartman continued her fast start by finishing second in the big-school girls race. Hartman, who won the Bob Schul Invitational in her first varsity race, finsished in 18:58.1. Ursuline Academy junior Hannah Doerger won in 18:56.3. Springboro junior Zoe Chappelle was seventh in 19:34.6.
Carroll finished third in the team standings, led by sophomore Trinity Raber’s 19th-place finish.
The meet is held on the Troy levee, the same site as the Southwest District regional championships.
Erbach won in 19:03.3 with teammates Riley McKinney (sixth in 20:40.2) and Abby Taylor (eighth in 20:49.7) also cracking the top 10. Lebanon scored 46 points to top runner-up Beavercreek’s 66.
Troy’s Emma Kennett was second in 19:38.2 and just ahead of Beavercreek’s Juliann Williams (19:53.).
Waynesville’s Hannah Gill (fifth in 20:40.1), Greenville’s Isabelle Rammell (seventh in 20:48.6) and Russia’s Becca Seger (10th in 20:57.8) also finished among the top 10 overall.
Lebanon’s Sam Duncan won the boys race in 16:22.5 for a 9.5-second victory. Lebanon finished second with 88 points, trailing Cincinnati Elder’s 72.
Arcanum’s Tanner Delk finished third in (16:42.3). Anna’s Lucas Smith (fifth in 17:07.1), Lebanon’s Thomas Clark (sixth in 17:08.8), Waynesville’s Colin Amato (eighth in 17:23.9) and Kaden Harvey (10th in 17:28) and Greenville’s Riley Emerick (ninth in 17:24.4) were also among the top 10 finishers.
Fort Loramie was second witih 164 points, and to add to a stacked D-III Southwest regional, West Liberty-Salem was third with 168.
Minster’s first five runners finished among the top 16, led by junior Emma Watcke. The defending D-III state champ finished fourth in 18:34.4. That was 19 seconds behind winner Allison Johnson, a sophomore from Mount Gilead.
Among other boys’ highlights, Fort Loramie seniors Jake Rethman and Joseph Ballas finished third and fourth. Rethman crossed the line in 16:23.8 (29 seconds behind the race winner) and Ballas in 16:31.1. The Redskins finished fifth as a team.