It wasn't easy, but Andrew Johnston battled a headwind to win the Division I regional boys cross country meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North.
The Olentangy Liberty High School senior finished in 15 minutes, 40.8 seconds to outdistance runner-up Jake Mandel (15:48.24) of Dublin Jerome.
"It was really tough on that last mile going straight into the wind," said Johnston, whose team finished fourth (118 points) of 16 teams to qualify for state Saturday, Nov. 2, at National Trail Raceway. "I felt like the last couple of years that I could win (regional), but this year I really believed I had a good shot. That meant a lot."
Coach Jared Mills said Johnston ran a smart race in the blustery conditions.
"Andrew never led in the wind until late," Mills said. "Tactically, he was able to save his energy. When you have to deal with a headwind like that, you have to be prepared mentally as well as physically."
The top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to state. Jerome (66), Hilliard Davidson (100) and New Albany (111) were the other team qualifiers.
Senior Josh Wojciechowski (25th, 16:46.38) was next for Liberty, followed by senior Chatham Anderson (28th, 16:48.52), junior Cameron Lackey (34th, 16:55.68), sophomore Mitchell Towne (39th, 17:00.54), senior Brad Wiemels (56th, 17:16.26) and senior Daniel Parsons (94th, 17:51.72).
Last season, the Patriots finished 14th (264) of 16 teams at state behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (71).
"We graduated seven runners from the teams that have run (at state) over the past two seasons, so we have a lot of new faces," Mills said. "They wanted to show that this program was ready to step up and show what we could do. I'm really proud of their effort."
Wiles advances for Patriots girls
Liberty junior Claire Wiles advanced to the Division I state girls meet by finishing fourth (19:02.61) at regional behind champion Kelsey Sandlin (18:47.77) of Gahanna.
Liberty finished sixth (208) of 16 teams behind state-qualifiers Gahanna (90), Upper Arlington (104), Davidson (118) and Thomas Worthington (143).
Sophomore Claire Linn (34th, 20:10.18) was next for the Patriots, followed by junior Autumn Lowder (53rd, 20:34.89), junior Trinity Wiles (69th, 20:53.15), senior Jessica Martz (77th, 21:05.36), sophomore Shannon Kelly (83rd, 21:17.22) and sophomore Caitlin McConaghy (88th, 21:26.45).
Last year, Wiles finished 53rd (19:03.22) in her first trip to state.
Braves' Benson falls one spot short of state
Olentangy senior Chase Benson placed 17th (16:17.94) in the Division I regional boys race, .04 behind the final individual state qualifier, Watkins Memorial's Andrew Jordan.
The Braves finished seventh (198) as a team. Also competing were junior Charles Rodeheffer (35th, 16:56.3), junior Jacob Darche (48th, 17:11.6), freshman Anthony Sasso (58th, 17:17.18), junior Tyler Azbell (63rd, 17:22), junior Daylan Sutton (99th, 17:57.54) and freshman Alex Garner (119th, 18:42.07).
Pioneers boys finish 13th at regional
The Orange boys team finished 13th (331) in the Division I regional.
Sophomore Brandon Morrow (29th, 16:51.46) led the Pioneers, followed by freshman Brandon Lane (64th, 17:22.84), junior Kyle Benecke (72nd, 17:32.64), freshman Hunter Moore (73rd, 17:32.7), senior Cameron Flesch (111th, 18:17.37), freshman Tommy Heiden (115th, 18:23.16) and freshman Matt Hartzell (116th, 18:26.79).
Junior Anna Dove competed as an individual for the Orange girls team and finished 89th in 21:27.13.