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Middletown’s Smith runs to state cross country title: ‘All kids dream of something like this’

HEBRON — Muddy, slippery ground and a blast of cold weather that left some icy spots forced officials at the state cross country championships to reroute the course for Saturday’s meet. The Ohio High School Athletic Association started with Course A, switched to Course B late in the week and even detoured to the final Course C version on Friday.

None of that mattered to Middletown senior Conant Smith. He was never deviating from his Plan A.

Smith won the Division I state championship he came so close to last season with a 2.7-second victory at National Trail Raceway. The title was the Middies’ first since Jeff See won consecutive titles in 2003 and 2004.

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“I’m overwhelmed,” Smith said after winning in 15 minutes, 43.4 seconds. “All kids dream of something like this, so here I am making it happen.”

Like he has all season, Smith went to the front and stayed there. Twinsburg senior Ryan Adkins, Steele senior Josh Hill, Howland senior Vincent Mauri and Whitmer senior Jacob Harris formed the lead pack with Smith. With about 800 meters remaining, Smith decided to break from it.

“If I made a move, I knew I could hold it. They were going to have physical and mental problems catching back up again,” Smith said. “When I made that move, I knew I had to drive to the finish line and see what happened. I took it all the way through the line.”

Mauri, who will be Smith’s teammate at Arizona State University, tested the pack, but Smith matched him each time.

Middletown’s Conant Smith heads the pack during the Division I state cross country championship race Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GREG BILLING

“He tried to make a couple moves. He would burst for a second and I would burst right with him,” Smith said. “He couldn’t hang for a few seconds and he’d drop back a little bit. I knew he was already struggling. I knew I was physically prepared for that, so I was ready to go.”

Smith came 0.4 seconds away from winning the D-I title last season, but was edged at the finish by friend and Lakota East then-senior Dustin Horter. Smith was determined to not let a similar scenario play out again Saturday.

“I heard him say when you make a move you better go because it’s going to be hard for the other guys to catch up in the mud and slop,” Middletown coach David Fultz said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this guy. I’m blessed. I’m just speechless.”

The state meet was postponed from Nov. 3 because of standing water on the course. Some spots reportedly had up to three feet of water. The parking lot had small patches of ice on Saturday and the grounds, including the course, were muddy and slippery. More than a few runners lost a shoe in the muck or fell during the race. Temperatures were in the mid-30s with a cold, steady wind.

Lakota East’s Kelsi Harris (right) heads toward the finish line Saturday during the Division I state cross country championship race at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GREG BILLING

“I was not going to let that get to me today,” Smith said. “I’m beyond cold. It was absolutely freezing today. The ground being wet and mushy as it is, it was hard out there today.”

Smith made the conditions even worse on his competitors. Going to the lead forced them to take a chance with the slippery conditions if they wanted to keep pace. But they couldn’t match Smith’s final burst.

“If I can hold this, I know I’m going to win,” Smith said of his thoughts during the final stretch.

Also in D-I boys, Lebanon junior Sam Duncan finished 62nd overall.

Monroe’s Marty Zumbiel (right) competes during the Division II state cross country championship race Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GREG BILLING

In D-I girls, Lakota East entered the meet ranked No. 2 in the state poll behind Beavercreek. The Thunderhawks found themselves in sixth after both the first and second miles before gaining enough spots to finish fifth overall.

Beavercreek won the title with 118 points. East finished with 159.

Sophomore Kelsi Harris finished 23rd to lead the Hawks. Senior Ali Neumeier (33rd), junior Danielle Horter (51st), freshman Cali Reynolds (52nd), sophomore Paxton Oberhaus (85th), junior Hailey Wilson (101st) and senior Lindsay Ison (112th) also comprised the Hawks’ seven-runner roster.

In D-II boys, Monroe sophomore Marty Zumbiel finished 44th and junior teammate Christian Leach was 70th. Madison senior Nathan Thobe was 55th.

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