It’s rare for the Oakwood High School cross country team to hold its awards banquet before the end of the season.
What the Jills can accomplish this weekend at the state championships is also uncommon. Oakwood freshman Grace Hartman and junior Elizabeth Vaughn — who finished first and second at the Division II regional championships two weeks ago — could both finish among the top five runners in Ohio at the D-II state championships Saturday.
The state championships were postponed from Nov. 3 because of standing water on the course at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, just east of Columbus. With the awards banquet already scheduled for the week after the state meet, the Jills have a chance to add some additional accolades to their season.
“The time Elizabeth ran at the regional meet, a lot of these years she probably would have won,” Oakwood coach Dan Flaute said, “so we’ve set a goal and if we could put two of them in the top five that would be a really big deal.”
Hartman won the regional championship in 18:18.55. Vaughn was second in 18:59.28 for second. They were the only two runners to finish in under 19 minutes.
As for the team, Oakwood’s best finish at state is eighth. The Jills – especially with that one-two punch up front – are on pace to better that. Joining Hartman and Vaughn on the team are seniors Lydia Beyer, Maddie Plunkett and Hannah Potter and sophomore Lily Kaval.
This is the Jills’ sixth state appearance and fifth in the past seven seasons.
On the boys side, Oakwood senior Dolan Johnson and junior Kyle Lethander qualified as individuals.
“We’ve set a goal for ourselves to finish seventh (or better),” Flaute said. “If we get strong races from our No. 4 and No. 5 girls, we’ll probably be leading the meet after our first two runners. But with cross country you’re as good as your fifth runner.”
As for Hartman, she’s also in the running for the D-II state championship after sweeping the district and regional titles. She’s won all but two races this season, both which came against larger schools.
“I’ve been coaching awhile and she’s probably the most naturally gifted runner I’ve ever seen,” Flaute said. “She’s just a really phenomenal athlete. She’s just the type of athlete you don’t often get to see in cross country.”
And Oakwood nearly didn’t. Hartman gave up a promising tennis career to run cross country. After the first week of practice Hartman was keeping up with the Lumberjacks’ third and fourth best runners on the boys team.
“I kinda purposely downplayed it until the last three or four weeks because we knew it was coming,” Flaute said of a potential run at the state title. “We talked about the opportunity being there. She’s won a lot of races by big margins this year but you get to a state meet and you know you’re going to be pushed to run your best race possible. She’s excited about it. I don’t think this stage is too big for her by any means.”
Mary Kate Vaughn won Oakwood’s lone state championship in 2012 as a freshman.
Elizabeth Vaughn, who finished 10th at state last season, could also turn in a state-title caliber performance at state. That’s the benefit of having two title-worthy runners pushing each other in practice.
“I think the big thing with them is that Elizabeth has been a little bit of a mentor toward Grace,” Flaute said. “Sometimes you might not get recognized because you ran a great race and finished second. But on the flip side you have somebody with you every day at practice who can push you.”