In the days leading up to his cross country race Saturday, Monroe High School junior Christian Leach mentally planned out his strategy for the Division II regional meet.
It was much better than the race that had played in his head during the offseason — last year’s D-II regional meet. In that race Leach missed qualifying for state by two spots and two seconds.
“It went how I wanted,” Leach said of finishing ninth overall in 16:39.16 to advance to next Saturday’s state meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. “I’ve been planning this in my head and running through it every night. I went out last year too hard. Since last year I’ve had that game plan.”
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Leach beat sophomore teammate Marty Zumbiel to the finish by 0.39 seconds Saturday as both qualified for state. Last season Zumbiel grabbed the 16th and final qualifying spot.
“We at least got two guys (at state) and that might be better than we’ve done before,” Leach said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself.”
Monroe finished ninth as a team. The top four advanced.
Leach’s plan on the 3.1-mile course weaving around the Troy flood plain and levee was to pace himself with the lead pack the first two miles. Once he started the third mile, he took off.
“Once I hit the hill, book it. I got into third and I started falling off. It was about what I planned,” Leach said. “Last season was a big motivator. Since coming so close last year, I put in the work. I knew those guys were coming (Saturday), so I had to keep pushing. I just want to go to state. I’ve been thinking about this since last year. It feels great.”
He’s not the only one waiting for the opportunity.
Middletown senior Conant Smith blistered the D-I field with a 24.8-second victory to win the regional title. That’s a nice way to enter state, but it’s not the title Smith wants. Smith had his own close call last season, finishing second at the state meet to Lakota East’s Dustin Horter by 0.8 seconds.
“Next week means a lot more. Just like last week, it’s all about qualifying,” Smith said.
Smith started putting distance on the field from the start. He considered making a run at the course record of 15:02.54, set by Horter last year, but with the hills slippery from overnight rain and a steady mist Saturday, he elected to play it safe.
“I get more nervous than he does,” Middletown coach David Fultz said. “He’s mature enough, he’s been there and done that. Everything was geared toward next week. Novembers matters most.”
The Lakota East girls are well aware of that, too. East, the No. 2 team in the D-I state poll, gave top-ranked Beavercreek a run for the regional title. Beavercreek edged East by four points (98 to 102).
Junior Danielle Horter led the Thunderhawks by finishing 10th in 18:36.62. Sophomore Kelsi Harris (12th), senior Ali Neumeier (17th), freshman Cali Reynolds (30th) and junior Hailey Wilson (41st) comprised the top five for East, while sophomore Paxton Oberhaus (44th) and senior Lindsay Isom (64th) rounded out the team.
“It’s great because we’re interchangeable. We know if one person doesn’t have the best day, we have someone else who can step up for the team,” Horter said of the team’s balance among the top five runners. “We can all rely on each other and trust each other.”
Six of the top 10 teams in the D-I state rankings competed in the Troy regional with No. 1 Beavercreek, No. 2 East, No. 4 Turpin, No 5 Centerville, No. 6 Mason and No. 10 Kings. All six qualified for state.
East wanted a top-three finish Saturday and coming within four points of beating the state’s top-ranked team — and battling some illness as well — gave the Thunderhawks a confidence boost.
“That’s amazing,” Horter said. “Our goal was to get to state. Winning would have been icing on the cake, but that didn’t happen today. Our team performed the way we wanted to. An all-around good day.”
Among other state qualifiers from Saturday, Lebanon junior Sam Duncan finished fifth in the boys D-I meet and Talawanda sophomore Maddy Iden was 19th in the girls D-I meet.
Madison senior Nathan Thobe finished eighth in the D-II boys meet to also advance.