Girls Cross Country: Bexley seeking fifth straight trip to state

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Senior Hannah Hayden is among the top returnees for the Bexley girls cross country team, which finished 12th in the Division I state meet last season at National Trail Raceway.

It had been a long time since the last race for the Bexley girls cross country team, nearly 10 months to be exact.

The Lions had their season delayed by COVID-19 coronavirus protocols, opening Sept. 12 at Columbus Academy. Before that, their last race was the Division II state meet at National Trail Raceway, where they finished 12th (285 points) of 20 teams behind champion Lexington (83).

It was Bexley's fourth consecutive trip to the state meet, and the six-member senior class wants to make it a fifth -- a goal that seemed in jeopardy when the pandemic caused spring sports to be canceled.

"It scared me (losing spring sports) because the last time we had run as a team was state and that was so long ago," said senior Maria Steinke, who finished 76th (20 minutes, 7.8 seconds) at state. "This season is going well despite it being a long summer and not running with (my teammates). I missed that.

"We didn't have a summer season with the captains' practices. We've tried to step up to the occasion as seniors."

Steinke is joined in the senior class by Isabelle Bowling, Ally Grieshop, Hannah Hayden, Karleigh Place and Leah Tadese. Junior Claire MacDonald was the top runner last year, finishing 41st at state in 19:31.1, and sophomores Rylee Barno and Lily Keller also competed.

Coach Eric Acton said the girls are savoring every moment this season.

"When you look at this senior group, they're doing a great job of enjoying the moment and they don't take it for granted," said Acton, who is in his 33rd season. "All of these seniors had fabulous experiences with their respective sports outside cross country. When they were cut out of the spring sports, they knew they had to relish the moment and not take things for granted."

Acton added that the current squad understands the importance of teamwork.

"They're a special group. They know it, and we know it as coaches," said Acton, whose team won its third consecutive MSL-Ohio Division title a year ago. "They have expectations of themselves and the team. When push comes to shove, they've always supported the team."

New coach sees promise in Unicorns

Rob VanCleve is in his first season with Columbus School for Girls, but brings an abundance of coaching experience.

He started coaching varsity programs in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1988, and moved on to coach for seven seasons in North Carolina. Most recently, he spent 14 years at Reno (Nevada) Sage Ridge, where his teams won three boys state championships and two girls titles in the state's small-school division.

"My wife (Meghan) got a job teaching at CSG last year and I was going to coach middle school track until there were no sports last spring," VanCleve said. "When this opening came up I was excited because I'd met the girls and know how hard they work.

"I had a lot of girls show up day one of practice ready to go. We've put down a pretty solid base and they've been really consistent."

VanCleve said freshman Fabi Corso was the top runner in the preseason, followed by junior Lauren Sloan, freshmen twins Ella and Grace Chomic and junior Molly Pawlik.

"Fabi Corso has been running away from everyone and she joins Lauren Sloan as our top two," he said. "In a race with 100 kids, I could see them in the top 20 or better."

Juniors Abigail Falk, Makenna McCoy, Neva Schehl and Esther Woda and freshman Lizzy Martin round out the roster.

The Unicorns opened Sept. 5 at the Sparta Highland Flying Scots Invitational but had only four runners because of the holiday weekend. Sloan (15th, 22:23.92) led the team, followed by Grace Chomic (18th, 22:35.29), Ella Chomic (19th, 22:35.55) and Pawlik (46th 26:11.51).

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At a glance

BEXLEY

*Coach: Eric Acton, 33rd season

*Top runners: Rylee Barno, Ally Grieshop, Hannah Hayden, Lily Keller, Claire MacDonald, Kayleigh Place and Maria Steinke

*Key loss: Ella Hayden

*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Bexley (31), Buckeye Valley (44), Grandview (92), Academy (109), Columbus School for Girls (126), Worthington Christian (133)

*2019 postseason: Second at district, third at regional, 12th at state

COLUMBUS SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

*Coach: Rob VanCleve, first season

*Top runners: Ella Chomic, Grace Chomic, Fabi Corso and Lauren Sloan

*Key losses: Katrina D'Arms, Sabrina Morse and Katie Pawlik

*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Bexley (31), Buckeye Valley (44), Grandview (92), Columbus Academy (109), CSG (126), Worthington Christian (133)

*2019 postseason: 15th at district