By BOB ETTINGER

For the Star Beacon

BEZETTA TOWNSHIP - Nobody likes to walk through a mud puddle, let alone run 3.1 miles through one.

However, area runners at the Division III district cross country meet had to slosh their way through the course Saturday afternoon at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds in an attempt to qualify for the regional meet next weekend.

Despite the sloppy footing, SS. John and Paul sophomore Brittany DiMare and Pymatuning Valley sophomore Samantha Turner managed to advance to run at the regional meet at Boardman High School next Saturday.

"I was surprised I did that well, especially since I have been injured (ankle) for about a week and not being able to run here last week," DiMare said. "I felt pretty good. I was trying to be in the 20s.

"I was a little slower than that, but everyone was slower, so I'm happy with my time. The mud changed everything a little bit. It's a pretty flat course, so you just have to keep your mind set on each step."

"I'm glad I made the regional," Turner said. "I can't wait until next week. I figured I'd make it to the regional because last year I went to state. I want to do it again this year. (After running here last week for the Sim Earich) I knew a little more about the course. I

knew it would be muddy, so I was prepared for the mud."

DiMare, SJP's lone runner in the event, finished sixth in 21:25 with the seventh-place Turner right on her heels in 21:27.

"That was a real good run, especially since it was such a sloppy course," SJP coach Bob Dulak said. "It's good to see her run that well. I think that's the first time since she was in the seventh grade she's run that well. It's been a long time since she's run that free."

"We were looking at (Samantha's) times and we figured she would be eighth," PV coach Shauna Bryan said. "She was able to finish seventh. It's good to come out and run well at districts for the team. You want to take it easy but be careful to qualify out and extend your season another week. You have to take care of yourself this week in order to be successful next week."

The top six teams and the top 24 individuals advanced to the regional. DiMare and Turner were the only area runners to extend their season an extra week.

Trisha Gruskiewicz of PV just missed the cut, finishing 25th in 22:31, nine seconds out of the 24th and final qualifying position.

"Trisha went out fast," Bryan said. "That last mile she tried as hard as she could to hold her position. I love to see that. She did all you can do.

"It's tough when the other runners run good times. You just give your best effort, you can't control what the other runners are going to do."

It can be said Gruskiewicz gave every bit of fuel in her tank in trying to qualify. She collapsed just after finishing, causing race officials to call in an EMS crew from the Bazetta Township Fire Department. After being treated with oxygen, Gruskiewicz was released from care and sent home.

"It's always nerve-wracking when they have to call in an EMS crew," Bryan said. "It's just a relief to have a happy ending."

The individual champion was South Range's Kayla Witmer in 20:02. She was followed in the top five by Rochelle Rupe (20:20) of Maplewood, Audrey Maheu (20:26) of JFK, Monica Ciarniello (21:02) of New Middlefield Springfield and Krysti Sowers (21:19) of McDonald.

Team qualifiers to the regional include team champion, McDonald (48 points), East Palestine (94), Maplewood (118), Trinity (140), South Range (151) and Jackson-Milton (202).

PV was the best area team with 241 points, good for 11th place. Samantha Jordan was the third finisher for the Lakers in 73rd place in a time of 24:52.

"Samantha Jordan ran very competitively," Bryan said. "She moved up a lot during the race."

After Jordan were LaJoya Smith (75th, 24:53), Felicia Morrison (84th, 25:33) and Sarah Sundberg (119th, 32:59).

"I'm very pleased. They really pushed themselves," Bryan said.

Grand Valley was the only other local team with enough runners to compete in the team standings. The Mustangs finished in 15th place with 362 points. Siera Holley led the way for GV with a 32nd-place time of 23:06.

"That wasn't too good," Holley said. "I ran slower than I usually do. The course was, it was pretty muddy. About the second mile I just slowed."

"I feel that if this were a dry course, it would have played to Siera's strength," GV coach Kurtis Fisher said. "But they all had to deal with it. Late in the race she had a good kick. She gave everything she had."

Following Holley were Tabitha Moody, Amber Holbert, Annie Paster and Lauren Prax. Moody finished in 24:26 (66th place), Holbert was 93rd in 26:05, Paster finished 109th in 28:46 and Prax ran the course in 28:57 to finish 111th place.

"They gave everything they had," Fisher said. "I'm not disappointed in any of them. I'm happy for them all."

Ledgemont's Kim Hunt finished in 35th place in 23:16 and Katie Heitman was 118th in 31:49.

"They did well, considering it was really mucky," Ledgemont coach Pam Wadsworth said. "They did what we expected them to do, it was a good way to end the season."

Lauren Ruple of Newbury finished 47th in 23:38 and Tina Schneider was 101st in 27:12.

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

Star Beacon Print Edition: 10/22/2006

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