By TIM CLEVELAND
For the Star Beacon
After a freshman season that ended with a 32nd-place finish in the Division III state meet, Grand Valley’s Jessica Finley was determined to return there this year in Division II.
While she wasn’t exactly pleased with her performance Saturday in the regional at Boardman High School, but her time of 19:48.24 was good enough for ninth and a return trip.
The top four teams and top 16 individuals qualified for state, which will be held Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Despite placing in the top 10, Finley felt her performance could have been even better.
“I could’ve done better,” she said. “I was up there and I fell back. I was trying. It feels good (to qualify again for state). I knew I could’ve been up there more. I was up there but mental stuff. I’m thankful for the opportunity to go again and prove myself.”
Grand Valley coach Kurtis Fisher said Finley ran well against some difficult weather conditions.
“I think she ran strong. She did a great job,” Fisher said. “She put herself out where she needed to be at the beginning of the race and was able to hang on and fight these pretty heavy winds today. I’m proud of her.”
Geneva’s Emily Deering also qualified out of Division II with a sixth place finish in a time of a 19:39.59.
Led by Deering, the Eagles finished seventh as a team. Geneva’s Hailey VanHoy missed out on qualifying, but finished 25th with a time of 20:34.71.
As far as Finley’s feelings that she could’ve ran better, Fisher said, “That’s great to have. I think eventually she’ll realize she ran a very strong race and she’ll be all right with it.”
When asked what her expectations for state are, Finley said, “I’d like to be in the top 15 and improve my time. I’d like to break 19 (minutes).”
“I think that’s a possibility,” Fisher said of Finley’s goals for state. “If she keeps running the way she’s been running, it can happen.”
Rounding out the Division II competition was Perry. The Pirates finished finished 10th overall, led by junior Marissa Sell’s run of 21:00.70 that was good enough for 32nd place.
In Division I, Lakeside’s senior Karen Barrientos advanced.
The Dragons senior, who will be making her first trip to state, placed 15th in a time of 19:31.27 in Division I.
She was overjoyed that she was able to qualify for state in her final attempt.
“I’m very excited; I’m very happy with what I did today,” Barrientos said. “I had to push in the last mile; I had to fight it out. Coach always told me, just stay on your pace. I’m always good about staying on my times. I just went out and just stayed with people.”
Also in Division I, Madison junior Hilary Reigle qualified for the state meet with a 13th place run in a time of 19:25.98.
Reigle’s run was the best for the Blue Streaks as they finished 14th as a team.
In Division III, Pymatuning Valley’s Saydi Lappe was never able to get untracked and finished 88th in 23:32.43.
The sophomore said her start is what doomed her performance.
“I could’ve done better, but I tried my hardest and that’s what matters,” Lappe said. “I started off way too fast. I could’ve had a better start. My first mile wasn’t the greatest; I could’ve been better. This season, I’ve improved a lot.”
Lakers coach Landon Hamilton said Lappe gained valuable experience Saturday that she can use in the future.
“I think she did well, considering the wind and all that,” he said. “Her start was a little slower than what we thought. We were expecting a fast start, but it wasn’t today.
“She had a good season. Today was really good experience for next season. I’m expecting her to be back here next year and go down to Columbus, hopefully.”
Cleveland is a freelance writer from Warren.