Cross Country: Bexley Lions sweep MSL-Ohio titles in ‘throwback’ season
In an unprecedented sports season, Bexley boys and girls cross country coach Eric Acton took an unusual approach to preparing his runners for the MSL-Ohio Division meet and the Division II postseason.
The 33rd-year coach dug deep into his past to find the formula for success, all the way back to when he ran for the Lions. With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic looming over the season, he chose to have his teams compete at a handful smaller meets before joining the crowded courses in the postseason.
The strategy powered the boys team to its second consecutive league championship Oct. 17 at Buckeye Valley, as the Lions scored 35 points to outdistance runner-up Columbus Academy (50).
“This season has been run like when I was a kid in the '70s at Bexley,” said Acton, a 1979 graduate. “We just ran duals and (tri-meets), and then we would have the league meet. That was an eye-opener as a kid because we would wonder how to navigate that (larger field of runners).
“It was a step back for me personally, going back some 40 years. We would have great practices, tough practices and only three or four meets to lead up to the league. We found out a lot about our team, and it’s what we needed to see. You don’t have to run against 20 or 30 teams each week to prove yourselves.”
Four seniors have been part of both championships. Rob Donahey, Elliot Roe and Spencer Stevenson ran both seasons and Atticus Keels was the alternate.
“I think it’s just really good teamwork,” Keels said. “We’ve definitely built a tight bond with each other, and it definitely showed in the races.”
Sophomore Jon Laing was fifth in 17 minutes, 43.5 seconds to lead the Lions behind champion Derek Amicon (16:20.4) of Grandview.
Stevenson (sixth, 17:50.1) and Donahey (seventh, 17:54.3) were next, followed by junior Miller MacDonald (eighth, 18:01.9), freshman Solomon McDow (ninth, 18:03.4), Roe (12th, 18:12.5) and freshman Athanasius Young (18th, 19:04.5).
“The thing with small races is that you really get to race with your team,” Roe said. “In big races there will be kids in between you, so there’s a lot of separation there.
“I think having that many small races before we hit the bigger and more important races really helped us to drive that concept of racing home. You want to be with your teammates during the race.”
The Lions definitely had a pack mentality in the MSL-Ohio race, with a spread of only 19 seconds between their first and fifth runners. In last fall’s league meet, the spread was 59 seconds.
“We’ve had more of a team race with a tight pack,” Donahey said. “In past years, we had more people spread out. This year our spread was 19 seconds. That’s one of the lowest spreads we’ve had in years. To do that we had to make sure that everyone understood the importance of their role and to keep up with the pack we were creating.”
Before last fall, the Lions had not won a league championship in five seasons.
“Winning a second league title definitely means improvement,” Stevenson said. “It was a few years since we’d won it before last year. We really hammered through a sense of teamwork and once again won the league title.”
The boys team competed in the district 1 meet Oct. 24 at Hilliard Darby, with the top three teams and top 12 individuals not on a qualifying team advancing to the regional Saturday, Oct. 31, at Pickerington North.
“I feel like our team is strong, not because we have a good front-runner but because we have a strong pack,” Stevenson said. “Throughout the season, the team has really focused on teamwork and a sense of being stronger together.
“We’re going to run as close as possible. We’re not running to be our fastest. We’re running for places and to be together. We’re pushing each other.”
Girls runners race to
4th straight MSL title
The girls cross country team cruised to a fourth consecutive MSL-Ohio championship, scoring 30 points to finish ahead of runner-up and host Buckeye Valley (54).
Junior Claire MacDonald won in 19:53.7 and Academy’s Regan Cornelius (20:00.4) was second.
Seniors Maria Steinke (fifth, 20:16.6), Karleigh Place (sixth, 20:37.4) and Hannah Hayden (seventh, 20:38.4), sophomore Lily Keller (11th, 21:11.3), senior Ally Grieshop (13th, 21:18.5) and sophomore Rylee Barno (15th, 21:37.2) also competed.
The Lions raced in the Division II, district 2 meet Oct. 24 at Darby, where the top three teams and top 12 individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to the regional at Pickerington North.