Lakota West stuns St. Xavier to win Division I boys state cross country title

OBETZ – St. Xavier entered the Division I boys state cross country championships ranked among the top teams in the nation. On Saturday, they didn’t make it out of the state meet as the best in Ohio.

Lakota West stunned the defending state champs with a last-mile surge, winning the D-I state championship by two points in the Firebirds' 73-75 victory at Fortress Obetz near Columbus. This was West’s first team state appearance.

“This shows you don’t have to be a team like St. X. You don’t have to be a team like Mason that has that winning culture,” said senior Zachary Beneteau, who finished eighth overall in 15:42.8. “If you’re willing to work for it you can do whatever you want.”

And the Firebirds had to put in some extra effort Saturday. Senior Coleman Cronk was uncharacteristically struggling. He finished third at the regional meet last week in Troy, but finished 41st at state. Senior teammates Kaleb Martin (10th), Zachary Plotkin (30th), Sergio Negroe (32nd), Easton Crowther (108th) and Nathan Burns (116th) picked up the pace to compensate.

“We’ve been trying to find out which of these boys is the team leader. I still don’t know,” West coach Sean Hart said of team’s all-for-one attitude. “They’re so good. I can’t say enough about them. In 31 years I’ve been a lot of times but never had a team like this one. Self-driven.”

That drive came out during the last two miles of the 3.1-mile race. Martin passed 27 runners during the second mile and 10 more in the third. Plotkin moved up 10 spots in the second mile and added one more in the third. Negroe, who was in 83rd place out of 180 runners after the first mile, jumped 23 spots in the second mile and an impressive 28 in the third. Crowther ran past 30 others in the last mile and Burns rallied to pick up 21 spots.

“Without a doubt (St. Xavier) was putting up crazy times,” Cronk said of the challenge of dethroning the Bombers. “We knew not everyone was going to have their best day. They picked me up.”

St. Xavier led by six points after the first mile. So those surges in the second and third miles made the difference. The Bombers' first two runners finished second and fourth. One St. X runner passed 42 runners the last two miles and another 21. But the Bombers also saw two runners fall 17 and 67 spots.

“This is the reason we’ve been doing workouts together all season,” Martin said. “When someone has a bad day someone can step up. I knew I needed to pick up spots or we’re going to lose. I didn’t really think about saving for a kick. I just tried to pass as many bodies as I could.”

Added Negroe: “(Staying in the back of the race then moving up) is the way I’ve done it since the beginning of the year. Some people say, ‘Sergio, you’ve got to pick it up!’ and I’m like just wait. Don’t worry I’ll catch up. You just have to wait until the right moment.”

Lakota West finished 10 points behind champ St. Xavier at last week’s regional championships. That, along with a victory over the Bombers to start the season, gave the Firebirds a boost of confidence knowing they could compete with a team among the best in the nation.

“We’re so close. We’re each other’s best friends,” Beneteau said. “I trust each one of those guys with my life. We know how to work as a team, celebrate as a team and lose as a team. It’s not one guy has a bad day. It’s the whole team. … We don’t need a leader on the team. We do it together.”

Also in D-I, Talawanda junior Kiefer Bell finished 20th overall.

In D-I girls, Lakota East finished ninth out of 20 teams. Senior Carly Spletzer finished ninth overall to lead the Thunderhawk.

Talawanda junior Hannah Lippincott finished 27th and Franklin freshman Kensington Black finished 29th.

In D-II boys, Badin senior Owen Mathews was looking for a top-15 finish. He got that and them some with fifth in 16:00.2 to finished 17.3 seconds out of first place. Mathews held off three other runners who were on his heels in an all-out sprint to the line.

“It was more than I expected,” Mathews said of his place. “One guy was right (on my shoulder). I knew he was coming. I wanted to get fifth because fifth sounds a lot better than sixth.”

Mathews was around 50th after the first mile. He moved up to 17th after the second and passed 12 in the final mile.

“When you’re just zipping by people it feels a lot better than when people are passing you,” Mathews said. “It helps with confidence to be running by people who look like they’re about to fall over and you’re feeling as good as you ever felt.”

Junior teammate Dominic Seigel finished 62nd. With regular season meets much smaller this season due to COVID-19 restrictions Seigel said the 168 runners got to him mentally.

“Halfway through I knew I wasn’t doing good. I guess that’s not a good way to think about it,” Seigel said. "Just a lot of people at the beginning so it was intimidating. I had a good season so it’s okay.

“I was going to try and stick with Owen. We do good pacing off each other. I didn’t really do that today. … I’m just happy for my teammate.”

In D-II girls, Fenwick senior Jaina Hellmann became the program’s first runner to reach state since Maureen Long in 1979. Hellmann finished 68th overall.

“It was nothing like anything I’ve ever run in before. It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to run here and the experience,” Hellmann said. “It’s definitely a memory I’m going to cherish forever.”

Badin junior Abby Jo Leiss also competed and finished 72nd.