Familiarity with a cross country course — especially one at Pickerington High School North that resembled a mud-hole on Oct. 27 after two solid days of rain — paid dividends for Matt Duvall and Gracie Sprankle.
Duvall, a North junior, used some home cooking to win the Division I regional boys race in 15 minutes, 54.6 seconds.
"I think I have a little advantage running here on my home course," Duvall said. "I know exactly where to cut at certain turns, I know the spots where it’s the muddiest and I felt really confident in my strategy. I wanted to use 10-second surges on the uphills to gain ground when the other guys were struggling.”
Runner-up Elliott Cook of Dublin Jerome, who finished 7.3 seconds behind, conceded that Duvall took control on the second mile.
"Those moves on the uphill were well played," Cook said. "That’s why he won the race. My legs were tired and he took advantage when others were struggling. We’ll do it again next week at state, hopefully in better conditions."
Sprankle, an Olentangy Liberty senior who recently committed to Indiana, defended her title in the Division I girls race in 18:23.1. She beat runner-up Daniella Santos of Hilliard Darby by some 22.6 seconds.
"I think I’ve run on this course something like 10 times in my career and I felt like I had a good read on things," Sprankle said. "Given how muddy it was, I wanted to run from the front so I didn’t have to try to make moves in a pack. Because of the conditions, you had to run smart. For instance, on the downhills you almost had to come to a complete stop to keep your footing."
Hilliard Davidson’s boys and girls swept the team competition.
Davidson’s boys scored 95 points for a comfortable margin over runner-up Gahanna (134).
Third-place Conner Johanssen (16:02) paced the Wildcats.
"Extreme conditions like this really test your strength and conditioning," coach Pat Schlecht said. "We toned things down a little bit in workouts this week to be ready for this challenge. It feels good to come away with the regional title because it helps your momentum going into the state."
The Davidson girls were even more dominant, turning in a low score of 38 points. Granville (68) was runner-up.
"We focused on running more compacted today because we’re especially strong when our Nos. 1 through 5 are pushing one another," coach Nate King said. "We ran really well today. We’ve crafted our season to point toward next week and I’m hoping we can continue to make strides.”
Sophie Lewis (third, 18:53.1) and Lindsay Stull (fifth, 18:55.9) led the charge for Davidson, which took four of the top 10 places.
In Division II, Heath’s boys (64 points) and Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley’s girls (89) took home titles.
Xavier Foehl paced Heath with a runner-up finish (16:23.2).
"We’ve been solid from one to four, but the key to our success rides with our No. 5 runner, Preston Pethtel, and he was fantastic today," Heath coach Scott Brown said. "He makes us complete."
Pethtel placed 28th and was just 13 seconds behind the Bulldogs’ third and fourth scorers.
Mount Gilead won the Division III boys title with 44 points and Centerburg was girls champion with 57 points.
Chris Miller of Grandview was the area’s top finisher (fourth, 16:39.3). He qualified to the state for the third time.
In the girls race, Mount Gilead’s Allison Johnson (18:38.4) and Baylee Hack (18:41.9) turned in a one-two finish.