BOARDMAN - The Division II regional cross country race came down to seniors Drake Lohnes of West Branch and Nate Boyer of East Liverpool.
Lohnes edged Boyer by four-hundredths of a second Saturday to become the first West Branch boy to win a regional cross country title.
"If I got him, I got him by an inch," Lohnes said.
Lohnes topped the 128-runner boys field, covering the 3.1-mile course at Boardman High School in 16 minutes, 37.97 seconds.
Boyer was second in 16:38.01, while Marlington senior Colin Eggleston was another second back.
"Eggleston and Lohnes came out of nowhere," Boyer said.
"They were coming from somewhere," East Liverpool coach Scott Thornberry said. "When they came around the bend, there were five of them and they were jockeying for position. It looked like the peloton at the Tour de France."
The finish line liked more like a sprint race, except the runners didn't think about a lean.
"It didn't cross my mind, it was just go," Lohnes said. "It was awesome."
"After 4,900 meters, it's hard to make an agile move like a sprinter would," Boyer said.
Lohnes surged ahead at the finish for the victory.
"It was the most brutal finish of my life," Boyer said. "Until the top four crossed the line, I didn't know who would win it."
"It was a heck of a race," West Branch coach Kevin Buckley said. "Drake's competitive spirit showed today. It was all heart at the end."
Both runners advanced to the state meet for a third straight season next Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
They knew where they stood coming into the regional meet.
"I was looking on the Internet - Coach doesn't like me doing that - but I like knowing where I am at," Lohnes said. "I knew Boyer was good. Today, I knew I was first to fourth. And I was fortunate enough to win it."
Even though Lohnes was fourth at the Malone district meet last week, Boyer knew he could win Saturday.
"He always comes out of nowhere in the postseason races," Boyer said.
"I think people have a lot of respect for his running to begin with," Buckley said. "He ran a tremendous race. He did what he needed to do."
After Saturday's win, Lohnes has changed his goals for the state meet.
"Yes," he said. "There's four regions in the state, so I think you're ranked in the top four."
"He's getting back to where he was at the beginning of the year," Buckley said. "He's right where he needs to be. He's been there. He knows the course since he ran there last year."
It will give Lohnes one last chance to break the 16-minute barrier.
"The goal at the beginning of the season is to break 16," Lohnes said. "I know I can do it. It's in my mind. This is it. It's my last hurrah."
Thornberry said Boyer had another similar finish early in the season.
"When he's running, all bets are off," Thornberry said.
Virtually assured of a state berth, the leaders gave it their all coming down the stretch.
"The pressure was off Nate knowing he is in the top 16," Thornberry said. "He always want to win and you have to salute him for that."
The top four teams and top 16 individuals advance to the state meet.
"Next week it's all about place and time," Boyer said. "I'm going to run as fast as I can."
- West Branch finished 15th in the Division II team standings with 320 points.
Finishing behind Lohnes for the Warriors were senior J.P. Overly in 54th, junior Jeremy Truex 74th, sophomore Caleb Morey 118th, sophomore Tony Host 127th and sophomore Matt Morelli 128th.
- Senior Matt Truex, West Branch's fifth runner last week, missed the meet for his ACT test.
- Marlington won the boys team title with 85 points.
- Minerva senior Luke Nezbeth, a two-time state qualifier, didn't advance after placing 57th.
- Carrollton sophomore John Brown, the regional champion last year, earned a return trip to state by placing 13th.
"You never know from year to year," Buckley said.
Nichols sets the stage
BOARDMAN - South Range senior Tim Nichols is setting the stage all by himself this season.
Nichols, who ran behind the graduated Ryan Roush the past three seasons, placed fifth overall at the Boardman Division III regional cross country meet to earn a third straight state berth.
"It was the first time at regionals I didn't have anybody beside me at the start," Nichols said.
He was fifth out of 135 runners, finishing the wet 3.1-mile course at Boardman High School in 16 minutes, 15 seconds.
"I feel like every single year I've run here it has been rainy," Nichols said. "I accomplished what I wanted to today."
Nichols, who was 11th at state last year, has been out front all season long.
"The training has been different because I've been by myself," Nichols said. "With Ryan, he was more responsible and I could pace myself off him. Sometimes I feel I run too hard and outpace myself without him."
One of the state favorites, Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas senior Cory Glines, won the regional race in 15:51.
"I don't think he ran as fast as he can," Nichols said.
Nichols wasn't looking much at his time on this day.
"I wish I could have gotten top three, but I couldn't control it," he said.
The top four teams and top 16 individuals advance to the state meet next Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
"I would like to get top five at state," Nichols said. "Last year I wasn't too thrilled with my race, so I hope I can have some kind of redemption."
- United senior Cole Weikart finished 37th in the Division III race. He also is the kicker on the football team, which dropped a 54-53 decision to Mineral Ridge in overtime the night before.
- Maplewood and McDonald, the top two teams in the state poll, finished one-two again to earn return trips to state. Maplewood was first with 72 points and defending state champion McDonald was second with 83 points.
The McDonald boys have advanced a team to the state meet every year since 1999.
- Roush, who was third at the state meet last year, is now running at Malone University and was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman Runner of the Year.
survive the rain
BOARDMAN - United junior Allison Parks and Minerva senior Kaele Lightfoot had to run through the rain at Boardman High School on Saturday to earn return trips to the state cross country meet.
"It was muddy and miserable as always," Parks said. "No matter what the weather is, this course in always fast."
Lightfoot won her third Division II regional title, while Parks was third in the Division III girls race.
"I love running in the mud," Lightfoot said. "I'm disappointed there isn't more mud, like last year."
Both will be competing in the state meet next Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
Parks was third out of 126 Division III girls runners, covering the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 40 seconds.
"I've been looking forward to this race since midway through the season," she said.
It has been different for her this season, not having a local runner she can gauge herself off of. So she was running against a lot of her competitors for the first time.
"You really don't know them until you run with them," Parks said. "I don't look at their times. I look at how they race."
She stayed near the front for the whole race, trailing only Gates Mills Hawken senior Alexandra Markovich and Smithville senior Erin Moomaw.
"Anyone who came up on me I tried to stay with them," Parks said. "You don't want to get swallowed up here."
She wants to run her best time ever next weekend.
"I hope to be closer to the front and do better than last year," Parks said. "If I run my best time, I can't complain."
Lightfoot ran away with another regional title, topping the 130-runner Division II girls field in 19:25.
Poland senior Libby Rogenski was second and Poland senior McKinsie Klim third in guiding the Bulldogs to a state berth.
"Those Poland girls are good," Lightfoot said. "There is a lot better competition than I've had in the past."
Lightfoot was strong from the start and pulled away in the last mile.
"I kind of let them do all the work," Lightfoot said. "I can tell when someone is dying. And I made a little bit of a move."
Her goal is to get on the podium for the first time in cross country.
"I've never been on the podium in cross country," said Lightfoot, a state track champion who has three straight top 27 finishes in cross country. "I missed it by one place last year.
"I'm not going to set my goals too high because it is cross country. My main goal is track."
Nothing will be easy next Saturday.
"The state meet this year is loaded," Lightfoot said. "Last year is when I should have made a move."
The South Range and East Palestine girls teams did not advance in Division III.
South Range, ranked 10th in the state poll, just missed advancing to state by placing fifth with 151 points.
Smithville, paced by Erin Moomaw's second-place finish, grabbed the fourth and final state berth with 141 points. Inter-Tri County League champion McDonald was third with 109.
Leaders for South Range were freshman Mollie Pierson in 28th, freshman Madelyn Kimpel 30th, senior Monica Patrick 32nd, junior Matti Dunham 35th, freshman Emily Fromel 65th, senior Danielle Buzzacco 71st, sophomore Lauren Herubin 74th.
East Palestine, which will return its top six runners next season, was 13th with 326 points.
The Bulldogs were paced by freshman Hannah Hall in 43rd, freshman Haley Hall 52nd, sophomore Justina Stanislaw 76th, junior Korynn Crawford 111th, freshman Tori Ward 119th, junior Sarah Adams 120th and senior Laura Garvin 126th.
- Also in the Division III girls race, Lisbon sophomore Bobbi Jo Evans was 42nd, Lisbon junior Carmen Phillips was 59th and United sophomore Natalie Gamble was 67th.
- Salem senior Mallory Maher was one spot shy of becoming the first Quaker since 2007 to qualify for state. She finished 17th in Division II, while Salem freshman Hannah Shaffer was 43rd.
- The Minerva girls came up short of a fourth straight state berth, placing 12th in Division II with 297 points.
Following Lightfoot for the Lions were sophomore Emmalee Carter in 37th, senior Heather Tomlinson 101st, freshman Lindsey Brust 107th, junior Casey Bates 111th, freshman Morgan Studer 114th and freshman Libby Zurbrugg 122nd.