Boys Cross Country: Hilliard Davidson hoping to compete for title at state

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Sophomore Connor Ackley returns to lead Davidson after finishing 22nd in the Division I state meet last season.

The expectations haven't changed for the Hilliard Davidson boys cross country team.

The Wildcats are looking for another strong showing in the postseason, coming off winning league and district titles, and finishing second at regional and seventh at state.

Davidson was ranked second behind Cincinnati St. Xavier through Week 2 in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Division I state poll.

"The expectations don't change," senior R.J. Sagrilla said. "(Winning the) state championship, that's the big goal every year. The postseason and focus on that: Win OCC, win district, regional, then state."

The returnees are led by sophomore Connor Ackley, who finished 22nd of 186 runners in 15 minutes, 53 seconds at state to earn second-team all-state honors. He was the top freshman in the race.

"Connor should be among the top runners in the state," said coach Pat Schlecht, who is in his 24th season. "His training volume has made him significantly stronger than last year."

Sagrilla, senior Nate Gilbert and junior Nick Puhl all have been competing for top-five spots.

"We only graduated two seniors (Xavier Gallo and Mitchell Montgomery) from our varsity last year, so this year a state championship is the main goal," Gilbert said.

Senior Noah Pease and junior Alex Hudson also are competing for spots among the Wildcats' top runners, and seniors Adam Alsko and Jay Chung, junior Zach Whitney and freshman Brody Boyd are looking to contribute as well.

At the Davidson Hot Summer Bash on Sept. 5, Ackley finished second (15:36) behind St. Xavier's Nathan Mountain (15:19) and the Wildcats also were runners-up (79 points) to defending state champion St. Xavier (46) in the team standings.

Ackley was followed by Puhl (sixth, 16:01), Pease (19th, 16:41), Gilbert (20th, 16:42), Boyd (33rd, 16:58), Hudson (41st, 17:04), Sagrilla (58th, 17:26), Chung (72nd, 17:46) and Whitney (73rd, 17:49).

"Davidson has high expectations and hopes to contend for the state championship," Schlecht said. "We're experienced, hungry and ready to race."

The Wildcats are competing in a new-look OCC-Central with Bradley, Dublin Coffman, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington.

Jaguars learn from tough breaks last fall

Bradley returns a pair of Division I regional qualifiers in seniors Josh George and Gabe Paynter.

But while Paynter finished 62nd (17:14.0) at regional, George was held out of the race because of a respiratory illness -- and he responded by doing everything he could to make sure he gets a second chance this fall.

"Josh has come a long way since last year, going from our No. 4 to our No. 1 runner," said coach Ben Gadfield, who is in his seventh season. "He took advantage of the quarantine time (because of the COVID-19 coronavirus) and did a lot of running. He used his energy in the right way."

Gadfield said George, junior Evan Corea, senior Caden Burkhart and Paynter have been the top four runners in the early going, followed by sophomores Noah Buschur and Aidan Shay and junior Daniel George, Josh's brother.

Junior Connor Gleason, sophomore Marcus Dye and freshmen Alex Keating and Will Swary also are in the mix.

"I feel like this group is an extension of last year," Gadfield said. "We had things that we knew we could achieve last fall, and then injuries popped up. We have a lot of those guys who were part of that, and they realized what could have been if not for the injuries."

The Jaguars finished 11th (251) in the Hot Summer Bash on Sept. 5. They were led by Josh George (24th, 16:45.78), followed by Corea (51st, 17:13.9), Burkhart (53rd, 17:17.14), Paynter (70th, 17:43.3), Shay (75th, 17:52.34), Buschur (76th, 17:53.35) and Daniel George (96th, 18:24.76).

"This team fits the mold of my vision of Bradley cross country," Gadfield said. "They're hard-working kids who compete hard, no matter the weather. They run with a chip on their shoulder."

--Scott Hennen

Carney returns to lead Panthers

Darby will be led by senior Sean Carney, who finished 15th (15:48.0) in his first trip to the Division I state meet a year ago.

Fourth-year coach Matthew Fox said his team is looking to make the most of the season, considering the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"They're grateful for the opportunity they get and they take that seriously, which is really mature and also really neat to see," Fox said. "Obviously, they knew we may not have had a season. And so they're grateful and they're willing to do the right things to have that."

In addition to Carney -- who won the 3,200 meters (9:18.03) at the state indoor track meet in March -- top runners are expected to include seniors Braden Bower and Caleb Nelles, juniors Jake Long, Ryan Bugg and Ben Fleck and sophomore Collin Applegate.

The Panthers competed at the New Albany Classic on Aug. 24, finishing fourth (81) behind champion Olentangy Orange (41). Carney was first (16:35.7) of 98 runners, followed by Applegate (10th, 18:02.1), Bower (18th, 18:30.2), Bugg (35th, 19:00.2) and Fleck (42nd, 19:15.2).

Darby followed up with a dual meet against Watkins Memorial on Sept. 2, finishing second (34) behind the Warriors (21).

The Panthers also competed in the Hot Summer Bash at Davidson on Sept. 5. Carney led Darby by placing fifth (15:53.37).

--Stephen Borgna

sports@thisweeknews.com

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At a glance

HILLIARD BRADLEY

*Coach: Ben Gadfield, seventh season

*Top athletes: Caden Burkhart, Evan Corea, Josh George and Gabe Paynter

*Key losses: Sean Rogers, Eli Schneider and Haydon Spaulding

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas Worthington (59), Dublin Jerome (72), Dublin Scioto (94), Worthington Kilbourne (97), Bradley (108), Olentangy Berlin (125), Darby (135), Delaware (182)

*2019 postseason: Sixth at district

HILLIARD DARBY

*Coach: Matthew Fox, fourth season

*Top athletes: Collin Applegate, Braden Bower, Sean Carney, Jake Long and Caleb Nelles

*Key losses: Isaac Becker, Tyler Hessenauer and Balaji Kurapati

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas (59), Jerome (72), Scioto (94), Kilbourne (97), Bradley (108), Berlin (125), Darby (135), Delaware (182)

*2019 postseason: Ninth at district

HILLIARD DAVIDSON

*Coach: Pat Schlecht, 24th season

*Top athletes: Connor Ackley and Alex Hudson

*Key losses: Xavier Gallo and Mitchell Montgomery

*2019 OCC-Central standings: Davidson (26), Upper Arlington (61), Dublin Coffman (64), Marysville (90), Westland (155)

*2019 postseason: First at district, second at regional, seventh at state