Jim Pappas and Zach Van Gundy looked like they had just finished playing football after competing in the Division I regional cross country meet.
The seniors for the Olentangy Liberty High School boys team were muddy and bloody as they crossed the finish line Oct. 27 at Pickerington North, but their performances were crucial in the Patriots qualifying for the state meet for the second consecutive season.
The top four teams and top 16 individuals at regional advanced to the state meet on Saturday, Nov. 3, at National Trail Raceway.
"There was some pushing and shoving (in the pack) and I was spiked twice -- once in the knee and another time in the ankle," a bloodied Van Gundy said after the race. "But it's a long race. Slowing down at 400 meters won't kill you. You have three more miles to make up for that. Your training helps you in that situation."
"I was pushed in the first 400 meters and fell down," a muddied Pappas said. "But that really shouldn't matter. What did it cost me, maybe four seconds? You just have to work through that and keep going."
The Patriots finished third with 103 points behind Westerville North (79) and Hilliard Davidson (88). New Albany (114) took the final qualifying spot, with Lancaster (134) finishing fifth.
"This regional was so competitive because we had five of the top 10 teams in the state from the Central District and only four could go to state," coach Jared Mills said. "And a lot of the top individuals were on those five teams, so that squeezed the runners from other teams from making it out."
Competing at regional were fourth-ranked Davidson, fifth-ranked Westerville North, sixth-ranked Dublin Jerome, seventh-ranked Liberty and New Albany, which was tied for 10th with Mentor. Jerome placed sixth (168).
Junior Andrew Johnston led the Patriots, placing sixth in 16 minutes, 6.74 seconds behind champion Jacob Dumford (15:51.81) of Westerville North.
Pappas (10th, 16:11.03) was next for Liberty, followed by Van Gundy (27th, 16:44.9), junior Chatham Anderson (33rd, 16:54.63), sophomore Cameron Lackey (42nd, 17:06.88), junior Jack Schoettmer (46th, 17:0934) and junior Brad Wiemels (65th, 17:22.71).
Mills said the regional competition will help his team at state.
"Our goal all year is to perform well at state," he said. "Now just making it (to state) is difficult. We should run well this week. These are exciting times."
Last year at state, the Patriots finished seventh (190) of 16 teams behind champion Dublin Coffman (101) and Johnston (sixth, 15:31.94) and Pappas (14th, 15:43.93) earned all-state honors by finishing in the top 25.
Wiles qualifies for state for Liberty girls
Sophomore Claire Wiles of the Liberty girls team finished 13th (19:22.83) at regional to qualify for state.
The Patriots finished eighth (218) of 16 teams as Davidson (50), Upper Arlington (113), Coffman (115) and Dublin Scioto (129) advanced to state.
"Claire is just a stellar performer who loves to be out front," coach Kaitlin Raver said. "She has a zest for racing and loves the competition."
Wiles will be competing at state for the first time.
"Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming if you don't know what to expect at state," Raver said. "I took her and five other kids to state last year so they could see the course and the crowd and know what to expect if they would get there this year.
"Claire knows a lot of the girls who will be running at state from other meets this season. We also ran some races throughout the state, so she could see runners from all over the state."
Also competing at regional for the Patriots were senior Kylie Spring (34th, 20:13.18), freshman Claire Linn (42nd, 20:23.39), senior Sarah Miller (74th, 21:05.9), senior Hannah Wishart (78th, 21:11.28), sophomore Autumn Lowder (79th, 21:13.93) and sophomore Mhairi Johnston (98th, 21:39.32).
Reynoldsburg's Leah Wallace won the regional title in 18:44.9 and Westerville North's Heather Sandvik (18:51.73) secured the final qualifying spot.
Hartzell advances to state for Orange girls
Orange senior Hannah Hartzell earned a return trip to state by placing ninth (19:15.51) at regional.
"Hannah ran a smart race," coach Ingrid Simpson said. "She's typically a frontrunner, but she has been struggling with her final mile in the past couple of races, so she went out a little slower than usual. She said she wasn't used to running in a pack, but she ran well and is going back (to state)."
Last season, Hartzell finished 33rd (18:59.49) at state.
"I think Hannah's being there last season will help her as far as being nervous," Simpson said. "She's been there before and is a more mature runner, so she should be ready to go."
Also competing at regional for the Orange girls were sophomore Alana Stillion (70th, 21:04.04), freshman Skylar Tucker (73rd, 21:05.44), senior Brooke Pulkrabek (76th, 21:08.22), freshman Madison Clarkson (111th, 22:18.05), sophomore Anna Dove (114th, 22:46.77) and freshman Hannah Dieker (117th, 23:00.77).
The Pioneers finished 14th (308) at regional.
The Orange boys team was represented at regional by seniors Eric Aumiller (44th, 17:08.3) and Sam Gerst (47th, 17:09.62). Watkins Memorial's Mikey McKean (16:16.27) secured the final qualifying spot.
Olentangy boys end season at regional
The Olentangy boys team finished 10th (258) at regional.
Competing for the Braves were sophomore Tyler Grover (21st, 16:31.98), junior Chase Benson (29th, 16:46.78), senior Corey Standerwick (70th, 17:30.46), senior Ryan Thede (83rd, 17:38.63), sophomore Jacob Darche (90th, 17:44.23), sophomore Tyler Azbell (92nd, 17:45.8) and sophomore Charles Rodeheffer (96th, 17:47.9).
The Olentangy girls team did not have any regional qualifiers.