Olentangy Liberty High School boys cross country coach Jared Mills smiled and hugged Andrew Johnston.
The senior had just placed 10th (15 minutes, 46.87 seconds) in the Division I state meet Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway to earn all-state honors with a top-25 finish.
"Right here (with Johnston) is the difference between 'happy to be here' and being here three years in a row," said Mills, whose team finished 12th (265 points) behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (46). "This guy has meant a lot to this program."
Senior Josh Wojciechowski (60th, 16:32.64) was next for the Patriots, followed by senior Chatham Anderson (86th, 16:43.09), sophomore Mitchell Towne (115th, 17:11.28), junior Cameron Lackey (127th, 17:31.11), senior Brad Wiemels (137th, 17:41.85) and senior Daniel Parsons (140th, 17:47.2).
In the regional Oct. 26 at Pickerington North, the top four teams advanced to state, and the Patriots were fourth (118) behind Dublin Jerome (66), Hilliard Davidson (100) and New Albany (111) as Johnston won in 15:40.8.
Liberty was second (55) of 16 teams in the district 3 meet Oct. 19 at Watkins Memorial behind Lancaster (36), as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional. Johnston was second (15:56.04).
Johnston won the OCC-Central Division race Oct. 12 at Hilliard Darby in 14:51.6. The Patriots were second (58) behind Davidson (34) and edged third-place Dublin Coffman (58) because their sixth-place runner, Wiemels (18th, 16:23.59), fared better than the Shamrocks' sixth finisher.
Thomas Worthington (93) was fourth, followed by Marysville (154), Upper Arlington (167), Central Crossing (214) and Westland (215).
Liberty had 22 seniors on its roster of 91 runners.
"This has been an incredible senior group because of its leadership," said Mills, who completed his seventh season. "It takes an incredible amount of discipline to be successful in this sport and this group was incredibly disciplined and sacrificed a lot for the program."
Braves to return key boys runners
The Olentangy boys expect to return 29 of their 37 runners from this season, according to sixth-year coach Mike Moran.
"We should have 17 letterwinners returning, including six of our top seven runners," Moran said. "(Next year's) seniors will give us terrific leadership. With a good winter and summer of running, we should be very competitive."
The Braves did not have a Division I state qualifier. Senior Chase Benson was 17th (16:17.94) at regional as the top 16 individuals advanced.
Watkins Memorial's Andrew Jordan was 16th in 16.17.9.
The Braves finished seventh (198) at regional. Junior Charles Rodeheffer was 35th (16:56.3), followed by 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).
Olentangy finished third (99) in the district 3 meet to advance to regional.
In the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 12 at Pickerington Central, the Braves were second (48) behind New Albany (27) and ahead of Olentangy Orange (68), Worthington Kilbourne (123), Mount Vernon (141), Delaware (150), Big Walnut (197) and Franklin Heights (227).
The Braves had eight seniors, including four-year runners Will Ash, Benson, Austin Bruening and Jeff White.
"During their four years, our seniors helped re-establish a solid work ethic needed to be successful in central Ohio cross country," Moran said. "Benson overcame several health issues when he was younger and was particularly inspiring throughout his four years, especially in his last race, missing out on a trip to the state meet by .04 seconds."
Dove runs at regional for Orange girls team
The Orange girls were represented in the Division I regional by junior Anna Dove (89th, 21:27.13).
The Pioneers finished ninth (212) of 14 teams in district 2 behind regional-qualifiers Gahanna (39), Dublin Scioto (78), Liberty (84), Westerville Central (100) and Canal Winchester (164).
Dove placed 17th (20:14.11) to advance to regional and was followed by sophomore Skylar Tucker (31st, 20:55.78), sophomore Lindsey Brandt (52nd, 21:40.8), sophomore Madison Clarkson (55th, 21:47.29), sophomore Hannah Dieker (60th, 22:00.44), senior Ann Howard (63rd, 22:12.78) and senior Allison Priest (81st, 23:44.18).
Orange finished fifth (144) in the OCC-Capital meet behind New Albany (29), Kilbourne (38), Olentangy (62) and Delaware (113) and ahead of Big Walnut (173) and Mount Vernon (189).
Olentangy had 10 seniors.
"Our seniors are a great group of positive girls, and we will miss them very much next fall," first-year coach Jen Sosa said. "They were wonderful leaders and role models to the rest of the team throughout our season. Two of our senior captains, Ann Howard and Allison Priest, were a part of our top seven and ran very well at district."
Liberty girls featured all-state runner
For the Liberty girls, junior Claire Wiles finished 12th (18:55) in the Division I state meet to earn all-state honors.
Wiles advanced to state by finishing fourth (19:02.61) at regional, where Liberty finished sixth (208) behind state-qualifiers Gahanna (90), UA (104), Davidson (118) and Thomas (143).
Sophomore Claire Linn (34th, 20:10.18) was next for Liberty, 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).
Claire Wiles won the district 2 race in 18:44.65 as Liberty finished third (84) to advance to regional. She was runner-up (18:16.24) in the OCC-Central meet as the Patriots finished fourth (88) behind UA (39), Thomas (51) and Davidson (59) and ahead of Coffman (119), Westland (203), Marysville (210) and Central Crossing (228).
The Patriots were led by first-year coach Kelly Fogle.