The directional signpost at the Mason Invitational cross country meet pointed spectators to the numerous obstacles on the 3.1-mile course. The list included hay bales, a creek crossing swollen from rain, a steep and muddy mulch hill, and the roller coaster loop.
The signpost could have added another challenge facing competitors — Middletown High School senior Conant Smith.
Smith won the event for the second straight season, navigating the winding course on Mason’s campus in 15 minutes, 47.6 seconds. That was good for a 28.9-second victory over Dublin Coffman’s Alex Dediu.
Cross country meets later in the season, most notably the Division I state championship, will focus on speed. Saturday’s meet was centered on fun.
“I haven’t had a course like this where it’s wet, muddy, everybody is slipping around … since (Nike Cross Nationals Midwest Regional),” said Smith, who finished third at that event last November in Terre Haute, Ind. “This is so fun. I like the fast courses every once in awhile, but I’ll take this over anything.”
Just like the pack of runners trailing him, expectations also follow Smith at meets. He ran, and won, the Bob Schul meet in West Milton on Aug. 25 in 15:38.7. Meet organizers were hoping to see him post a sub-15 time to shine some national attention on the Schul.
“I just go into the race like it’s the same old race,” said Smith, who raised his status as a state title contender even more this season after battling Lakota East graduate Dustin Horter to the finish in the D-I state championship, finishing second by 0.8 seconds. “I just come in, do my thing and I’m out.”
That was a little tougher than usual Saturday. The creek crossing made sure of that. Rain forced meet officials to close off one creek crossing and reroute the course. The other, though, saw more than a few runners sprint into thigh-high water, fall and go under. Those that made it through faced the daunting and steep Mulch Hill immediately after.
“It came up right to my waist. I took about five steps in and I was basically walking out because it was so deep,” Smith said.
Smith has also started wading deeper into his college recruitment. He said he plans to take official visit to Furman University in South Carolina and Arizona State. Colorado and Oregon called last week.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty humbling,” Smith said.
In the Section II boys small school meet, Badin finished second and just one point behind Greenon’s 106 points. Badin’s Owen Mathews paced the Rams with a 10th-place finish (17:35.5).
In the D-II girls small school meet, Monroe’s Emily McMurry scored the area’s highest finish in fourth (20:35).
“The creek came up to my waist, so I was swimming. We had to go up the hill after that and it was rough,” McMurry said. “I try to treat it like any other course. Place matters more than time, so just go for it.”