Pickerington North boys cross country runner Matt Duvall never forgot that he finished seventh in last year's Division I state meet, or that all six runners ahead of him graduated.
Still, the senior had to put his plan for this season into action in order to end his Panthers career as a state champion.
In this year's state meet Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway, Duvall was in or near the lead for the entire race and pulled away with about 300 meters to go to win his first state championship in 15 minutes, 12.9 seconds, 6.1 seconds ahead of runner-up Nathan Moore of Uniontown Lake.
There were 186 runners in the race.
"It means the world to me," Duvall said. "Running has been something going on in my life for six years or so now and just to be here and finally win, going through everything in my head last night, I just tried my best to visualize what I was going to do. Anything can happen, but crossing that finish line knowing all of your hard work has paid off, it's just incredible."
Duvall, a four-time state qualifier, finished 23rd as a sophomore and 10th as a freshman.
"I expected myself to be maybe fifth in the first mile, but nobody pushed the pace, so I did," Duvall said. "We've been focusing on the last mile being your fastest one, saving for the ending kick, and that really paid off."
Teammate and classmate Harper Moore finished sixth (15:36.6) to help North place fifth (230 points) behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (92) as 20 teams scored. That tied the team's previous best finish at state from 2009.
Also scoring for the Panthers were seniors Aaron Moraine (73rd, 16:29.8), Spencer Moledor (131st, 16:57) and Daniel Newman (142nd, 17:01.4).
"Matt was vocal from the beginning of the summer that he wanted to win every race and that he was aiming for No. 1," coach Tim Starkey said. "The last 300 meters, I knew he had it. Everybody else seemed broken and Matt was just starting to rev up and find more and more. He ran his race. It's just amazing that he did what he did."
North had finished fifth at regional seven days earlier on its home course to earn the final qualifying berth to state.
"We all knew we could do it. We all knew we had a bad race at regional and we were just focusing toward bigger and better things," Moore said. "We stayed confident. If we did that and trusted in our abilities, we knew we could get top five in the state. That was our goal all season."
Junior Nick Whitehead and freshman Justin Schumacher are eligible to return from a team that won its second OCC-Ohio Division championship in three years as well as the district 3 championship.
The girls team expects to return five of its top seven runners after advancing to regional for the first time since 2014.
Sophomore Emma Rittman was the team's top runner in eight of its nine races this year and posted the team's best time of 19:47.8 at regional, where she finished 29th.
Other runners eligible to return include junior Emily Harness, sophomores Lainy Grube and Bryn Woodruff and freshman Ashley Khatib.
"I am hoping we can build on this experience next year and say this is where we always go," girls coach Jim Langenderfer said. "Hopefully, we will keep moving up and eventually make it back to state, but it will be a process. It always is. Our senior group with Brianna Bowden and Briana Cavendish set the tone. (For) our younger girls, there was nothing else to do but jump in with them."
Spring named girls track coach
Athletics director Molly Feesler announced Oct. 29 that longtime boys track coach Dave Spring will succeed Langenderfer as girls coach.
Spring, who has been boys coach since 2008, will coach both teams.
Langenderfer retired in September after 16 seasons running the girls program. He had been the only coach in program history.