Cross Country: Camaraderie makes Bexley seniors 'as good as it gets'
Coach Eric Acton has been leading the Bexley cross country program for 33 years, but he has never encountered a group like the seniors on his girls team this fall.
In each of their first three seasons, the girls helped the Lions win the MSL-Ohio Division championship and qualify for the Division II state meet. Acton is amazed by their achievements.
“They are always racing to win at every level that they have competed since their freshman year,” Acton said. “They had great leadership ahead of them, and they continue to carry on that tradition. They are hard-working and set a great example for our younger athletes.
“They have been a great group to work with. They are as tough of a group of girls that I have ever coached here at Bexley. It’s as good as it gets.”
The senior class of Isabella Bowling, Ali Grieshop, Hannah Hayden, Karleigh Place, Maria Steinke and Leah Tadese has continued to improve throughout the years. Tadese said it's because of the connection they share.
“I think our major improvement is just working hard over the summer,” she said. “We have been putting in those hours of practice that really helped to improve our times. Working together on runs has helped us because it keeps the pack together and that helps us improve.
“We have a closer connection with each other and that motivates us, and we run faster and stick together. That truly helps us improve.”
The MSL-Ohio meet is Saturday, Oct. 17, at Buckeye Valley. Last season, the Lions legged out a 31-44 win over runner-up Buckeye Valley.
"That would be really important (to win four league titles),” Hayden said. “We’re kind of nervous. Buckeye Valley is kind of our rival, and they have really improved. We’re going to try our best and do what we always do and hope for the best.”
This fall, Bexley has participated only in smaller meets — duals, tri-meets and quads — because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
On Sept. 26, the Lions (19 points) won a tri-meet against host New Albany (52) and Westerville North (65). Junior Claire MacDonald finished first (19 minutes, 53 seconds) and Steinke (20:32) was runner-up.
Grieshop (fourth, 29:39), Hayden (fifth, 20:43) and Place (seventh, 20:56) rounded out the scoring.
“That was something I was worried about early but even in the small meets, I have been happy with the way we have been running,” Grieshop said. “We have done very well considering the circumstances. I think it might be a bit of a shock, but I believe we can adjust well to the bigger meets.”
Steinke said the workouts have changed to help the team adapt to their circumstances.
“I think we have been preparing well.” she said. “The coaches have chosen different workouts to get us prepared. We race against each other since we’re all really close (in our times). I think we can adjust quickly to it.”
The Division II district meet is Oct. 24 at Hilliard Darby, beginning a path the Lions hope will lead to a fifth consecutive trip to state — the fourth for this group of seniors.
“I want to win the league, but I’m more concerned with the postseason,” Place said. “I feel like the league meet is about the pride of the school — and I want to keep that up — but I look at it as more of a fun meet. It’s the last meet before you have to get serious and go hard so you can move on.”
The MSL-Ohio meet also begins a countdown for the seniors toward completing their legacy with the program.
“I feel like I have been in the cross country program for a long time but this season kind of sneaked up on me,” Place said. “It feels like freshman year was just yesterday.
“These girls are some of my best friends. Running has brought us so close together. Going off to college will be so sad because I’m just used to being around them for a few hours each day. We do things together outside of cross country, too. It will be weird and sad not being around them.”