By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
The Edgewood girls cross country team didn’t have a runner win the race. It didn’t place anyone in the top five.
What the Warriors did do, however, was beat a pair of teams who each had two runners in the top five in claiming the All-Ashtabula County Meet championship at Edgewood on Tuesday.
The Warriors placed five runners between sixth and 12th place to total 46 points.
“This was a big step for the girls,” Edgewood coach Steve Hill said. “We were probably expected to finish no better than third. The girls had a great week of practice.”
“When we started off, we looked pretty impressive. It was exciting. I was a little surprised, truth be told, that it kept together without somebody breaking it up. Give all the credit in the world to the girls. They wanted to stay together and they did.”
“When (Edgewood) came around on mile one, they were already running as a pack. They set their positions in that first mile. In the second mile that distance got bigger. We missed our chance in the first mile.”
Lakeside was second with 49 points and Geneva was third with 58.
“I’m not surprised (Edgewood won),” Lakeside coach Christina Powers said. “I’ve been watching them run all season. The girls’ times are getting faster. I knew they were trying to keep that pack together. That was one of our concerns. Our job was to break up that pack. We didn’t and that’s what cost us.”
The Dragons’ Karen Barrientos finished in 19:45 to outdistance Jessica Finley of Grand Valley to win the individual championship.
“I felt good that first mile,” Barrientos said. “I knew my pace was where it was supposed to be. If I had to pass people, that was my job.”
Finley navigated the 3.1-mile course in 19:48.
Emily Deering was third in 20:18 and Hailey VanHoy was fourth in 20:52 for the Eagles.
“The top two girls were phenomenal,” Deering said. “It would have been nicer if I’d have been a lot closer to them, that’s for sure.”
“I did feel good about the race,” VanHoy said. “I know I slowed down that last mile. I was hoping for a PR. I was close. It was definitely a season best.”
Carlie Watt placed fifth in 21:38 for Lakeside.
Barrientos, Finley, Deering and VanHoy clung to each other like magnets for the first mile, easily putting some distance between themselves and the pack. It was clear each person in the group was operating under the same strategy.
“We were all pretty close until about that second mile,” Deering said. “I don’t know where Karen gets it from, but she always kicks during the second mile. I don’t know where she pulls it from.
“I think all of our coaches had the same idea. Stay close then pass, stay close, then pass.”
Watching those four maneuver the first half of the race was like watching a gunfight in the old west. They stared each other down, waiting for the tiniest muscle twinge.
Barrientos proved to be the quickest draw. The Dragon made her move midway through the race.
“She made (the move) before I did,” Finley said. “She was more mentally tough than I was. She definitely deserves everything she got today.”
Finley followed, hot on Barrientos’ heels. Deering and VanHoy fell off the pace.
“I feel like they accelerated and I slowed down a little bit,” VanHoy said.
“It was nice to run in a group of people. I usually fall back and run alone. It was nice to run with someone for the first half of the race.”
At the start of the second loop through the course, Finley made a costly mistake, continuing to run straight when the course turned to the left. She corrected herself quickly, but it cost precious seconds and gave ground away to Barrientos.
“That was stupid,” Finley said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. (Barrientos) put up her arms and I lost her. That made up the separation in time. But that’s not what really mattered. I got back up on her. It was right there at the end.
“It’s all mental in this sport. It really sucks when you give up. I wish I would have endured those extra few seconds of pain. I’d have been happier in the end. She was more mentally tough than I was. She deserves it. She ran a great race.”
Finley’s falter was all the window Barrientos needed.
“I didn’t know if that was going to break her or what,” Barrientos said. “I’m proud of her for keeping up. She stayed up there with me.”
Barrientos relaxed for the briefest period and Finley gained back the ground she’d lost, but the damage was already done. A strong finish gave Barrientos the win.
“Coach always tells us to run like a sprinter the last 400. That’s exactly what I did. I knew I had to push it.”
Shelbie Sporcich and Andrea Zuccaro placed sixth and seventh in 22:28 and 22:30, respectively, for the Warriors. They were followed by Kate Crooks (22:55), Savannah Spring (22:59) and Newman (23:04) in 10th, 11th and 12th place.
“We’ve been working on that all year long,” Hill said. “Today, (our pack) was much bigger than it usually is.
“Our No.-5 runner, Angel Newman, really stepped up for us today. She was the difference between winning and losing.
Colleen O’Connor of Jefferson and Emma Hanchosky of Geneva did their best to split that pack the best they could. O’Connor was eighth in 22:48 and Hanchosky was ninth in 22:50.
Lakeside placed all seven runners ahead of the Eagles top five to edge out Geneva.
“We displaced two (of Geneva’s runners) We got our sixth and seventh runners ahead of their five. That’s what made the difference. Our third and fourth runners finished ahead of their fourth runner. That was big.”
Abby Volpone was 13th in 23:19, Megan Abrams was 14th in 23:26, Shyanne Cooper was 16th in 23:40, Leah Kingston was 19th in 24:04 and Krista Severe was 20th in 24:09.
Breanna Nichols (15th, 23:39) and Holly Engle (26th, 24:38) completed the scoring for the Eagles.
Saydi Lappe was the top runner for Pymatuning Valley, placing 17th in 23:49, and Danielle Hall paced Conneaut placing 18th in 23:54.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.