Cross Country: Lakota West boys place 2nd at regionals, earn program’s first trip to state

Lakota West's Zach Beneteau (right) and Cole Cronk (left) led the Firebirds to a runner-up finish at the D-I regional championships Saturday. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

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Lakota West's Zach Beneteau (right) and Cole Cronk (left) led the Firebirds to a runner-up finish at the D-I regional championships Saturday. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

Lakota East senior Carly Spletzer wins individual title in D-1 girls race

TROY – When it comes to the Division I high school boys cross country state championship, X (as in Cincinnati St. Xavier) marks the spot. The defending state champion Bombers are ranked No. 1 in the state poll and are favorites again after winning the D-I regional championship Saturday in Troy.

But Lakota West is getting closer to hitting that target, finishing 10 points behind St. X and earning the Firebirds' first state appearance in program history.

“The goal was to get as close as we can and hopefully beat them at the state meet,” Lakota West senior Cole Cronk said. “I think our (top two runners) have a really good shot at being up there with them. If our back half of the team has a good day … .”

Lakota West makes another run at St. Xavier during the state championships at Fortress Obetz near Columbus on Saturday. Cronk paced the Firebirds with a third-place finish at regionals in 15:37.7behind the Bombers' 1-2 finish.

Joining Cronk at state are senior Zach Beneteau, senior Kaleb Martin, senior Sergio Negroe, senior Zach Plotkin, senior Michael Lane and senior Nathan Burns. The Firebirds finished seventh at regional last year to miss qualifying for state by two spots. But the team turned the corner after realizing their potential.

“Ever since this meet last year, we knew we were talented enough to get to state,” Beneteau said. “We took our two-week break after the season and we’ve been grinding pretty hard since then. It’s been a team atmosphere and work ethic.”

Part of the process was convincing Martin, Negroe and Lane to drop soccer and run cross country full time. Once the trio did the Firebirds were off and running.

“I miss the sport a lot, but I’ve done a lot better in this,” Martin said. “How close the team has gotten we’ve never really had this on the soccer team. I love this so far. … I think we have a good chance to win it. I think it’s in our hands. St. X is definitely a good team. It’s going to come down to 3-4-5 and how those runners show up.”

The Lakota East girls return to state after finishing second to Centerville by three points in the D-I meet. Senior Carly Spletzer won the individual regional championship in 18:11.1 for 6.2-second victory over Lebanon senior Faith Duncan.

“It was a great feeling for sure, especially in such a great field,” Spletzer said. “I kind of came out and went for it. (Duncan) passed me coming through a mile and I tried to hang on as long as I could. I just got closer to her and we made one of the last turns and I got her. I just tried to maintain the lead.”

Senior Kelsi Harris, sophomore Jocelyn Willis, junior Dani Thorner, senior Paxton Oberhaus, junior Sarah Renfro and junior Calie Reynolds join Spletzer at state. Lakota East finished runner-up to Beavercreek for the D-I state title in 2019.

“We’re hoping we can keep improving one more week and maybe win a state title,” East coach Adam Thomas said. “I think it’s going to be a real exciting race. … I think it’s going to be a dogfight for the state title for individuals.”

Also in D-I, Talawanda junior Kiefer Bell finished ninth overall to qualify for the boys state meet. Franklin freshman Kensington Black was 10th and Talawanda junior Hannah Lippincott was 14th in the girls meet to advance.

Badin had a pair of boys runners qualify in D-II with senior Owen Mathews (sixth) and junior Dominic Seigel (ninth).

“Dom was so nervous before the race,” Badin coach Steve Deitzer said. “He’s a high-anxiety runner but he’s just so good. He went out and executed. Owen, it’s a whole different level of confidence than he had last year. Last year he had to really, really perform here to get through. This year he was cool and calm and knocked the race out really well. I’m thrilled for both of them.”

In D-II girls, Fenwick senior Jaina Hellmann (eighth) and Badin junior Abby Jo Leiss (12th) advanced.

“Oh my gosh. I don’t even know how to describe it,” Hellmann said. "It’s been something I’ve been working at for years. Being able to go my senior year and make my family proud, make Fenwick proud … I’m super proud to represent Fenwick and represent this region at state. It’s a crazy feeling.

“I needed a great race today to get out. My mindset going in was even if I don’t make it I’ll go out on a good note.”

The state championships are held Saturday at Fortress Obetz, a multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex. The State of Ohio and Franklin County Departments of Health are limiting attendance to 1,500 per division. Attendance is limited to parents and immediate family.

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