OBETZ — Ranked last among the 20 Division III schools that qualified for the state cross country championships Saturday at Fortress Obetz and Memorial Park the Whiteoak Wildcats turned in their best performance of the season to a 15th place finish in their first trip the state event.
The Wildcats used a sneak attack the week before to barely make it in the final qualifying spot and therefore was the 20th ranked team going into this race, and not close to the 19th best team, or so the experts thought, according to veteran Whiteoak coach Doug Hughes.
“We’ve been preparing all year for this, peak when I matters the most, rise up. I did the research and knew if the kids ran their best races of the year that we could beat several teams and not just sneak in, show up and finish last,” Hughes said. “They were focused and pumped and they were running on air around the wonderful venue in Obetz. The crowd was roaring in the huge stadium and the Whiteoak boys competed very well with the best in the entire state of Ohio. In the end Whiteoak finished 15th overall and defeated five teams that were ranked well ahead of them.
”We came out of the regional at Pickerington behind four other teams and honestly weren’t very close to any of them, but today, when it mattered the most…,” Hughes continued. “Last week Fisher Catholic beat us by 25 spots, today we beat them by 29. Fredricktown drilled us by 43 points at Pickerington, today we beat them by 59. Centerburg was the regional runner-up last week and beat us easily by 46 points, but on this day we beat them by an incredible 89 spots. We also knocked off Maplewood from the Troy Regional and Mechanicsburg from the Youngstown Regional.”
Hughes said there were several reasons why the Wildcats were able to turn in their best performance of the season.
“We haven’t had a single meet all year where everyone has ran well, many times we weren’t fully healthy, but going into the meet we’d never broken the 18:00 team average for our one through five runners,” he said. “At league, in great conditions, we went 18:03 and at districts we went 18:14, but at the state meet we made a huge improvement and all-time Whiteoak best 17:41 average. Everyone was big, everyone did their job.”
Weston Blair ran a career career best 16:47 to finish 39th out of 182 Division II runners, and Landen Eyre ran a 16:54 to finish 50th.
“Those two have been huge all season — two of the very best in this part of Ohio. But today they had extra help as senior Robbie Raines, who has battled the lasting effects of COVID all year long, ran his career best by 16 seconds and finished with a time of 17:47,” Hughes said. “To give you an idea of what he did, six weeks ago Robbie finished 120th at Rio Grande and today he finished 120th in the entire state of Ohio. It was incredible how low he went and we were all so happy for him and proud of him — the ultimate rise up.”
Christian Price ran a career best 18:14, Bryce Van Hoy had his career best 18:36, Wade Evans had a season’s best 18:36 and Connor Butler clocked a career best 18:46.
”I can’t really put into words how proud I am for what they did today and have accomplished this season,” the coach said. “County champs for the first time, Southern Hills Athletic Conference champions to make it back-to-back, district champions for the first time ever. State qualifiers and competed very very well. We didn’t lose a meet within 50 miles of our school all season. There are 71 schools in the Southeast District counting all divisions and including the girls side it makes 142 potential teams and only the Unioto boys team in Division II had a better statewide showing than the young men running for the Whiteoak Wildcats.
”Unioto is the gold standard anywhere south of Columbus and west of Cincinnati and has went to state 18 of the past 20 years, but I like where we are at. We graduate three tremendous seniors of our top nine runners, but we return two of the top underclassmen in the district and will have a core group of talented and hungry seniors. We know nothing is guaranteed so these kids will be back to work very soon.”
Hughes said he and his team would like to thank all the local businesses and community members for all they have done for the team.
“Everyone has been so great and supportive and made this state week so memorable and so special,” He said. “Whiteoak is just a tremendous place to be.“