For the Wetzel Chronicle
On the cool Saturday morning of Oct. 6, the Magnolia cross country teams tried to hide as long as they could from the freezing wind and then made their way to the starting line in Byesville, Ohio.
Two Blue Eagle teams took the field, one boys and one girls. The boys stepped to the line as defending champions in the giant Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, but were not expected to make much noise this year after the loss of a solid senior class. The girls? Well, let's just say they hadn't entered into the discussion for a while. But no one told them that.
The boys raced. Senior James Haught went out to try and keep his streak of top 10 placements going. But, in a race like the OVACs, where more than 200 runners start, that could be where the streak ends.
Fellow seniors Kenny Headley, Mikal Raber, and Kyle Lancaster followed closely, helped by sophomores David McIlvain, Jacob Pancake, and Oscar Celedon.James Haught pushed hard the second half of the race to squeeze into the top 10 once again with an outstanding seventh place finish and his first all-conference finish. His time of 16:46 was a personal best. The single digit placement was great if his teammates could maintain the momentum.
The Blue Eagle number two spot was nailed down by sophomore Jacob Pancake in 43rd place. He, also, saved his best for the conference finals by running the course in 18 minutes and two seconds.
Next up was senior Kenny Headley who broke 20 minutes for the first time. And in the process, he broke 19 minutes for the first time. A competitive 18:59.5 and 80th place put him across the line just ahead of sophomore David McIlvain and his 18:59.8 for an 81st place finish. Headley literally slid through the mud to defeat his fellow Eagle and help the team's points.
That all-important fifth scoring spot fell to another sophomore and another personal best in Oscar Celedon, who ran the course in 19:35 for 101st place. This gave the Magnolia team a total of 312 points, well behind champion Fort Frye's 201 points. But it was ahead of favorite Barnesville's 371. This allowed the Blue Eagles to bring the runner-up award home to New Martinsville. This is the fourth straight year the boys have come home with a team trophy, including the 2011 championship award.
Also running were seniors Kyle Lancaster in 20:22 and 128th place and Mikal Raber in 20:34 and 134th place - also personal records.
The girls' team seemed to be out of the conversation for a championship, unless you were to ask their coach or the runners themselves.
Veteran harrier Christa Harshberger completed her final OVAC with a 21:34 in 39th place. In support came freshmen Sofia Herrick in 22:40 and 66th place (personal best), Ariel Hostuttler in 23:06 and 81st place (personal best), and Rachel Arbogast (23:26 and 92nd place).
The final scoring spot was earned by junior Shelby Sands in 24:11, good for 106th place, and also a personal record, to hold the Magnolia point total as low as possible.
Sophomore letterman Katie Ensinger held the team sixth spot with an outstanding 25:37 in 130th place and freshman Emily McIlvain came across the line in 27:29 for 147th place. Both of these times were personal records, also.
The Eagle ladies completed the scoring with 385 points; only Fort Frye's 227 was better. River and Barnesville followed with 427 and 546, respectively.
Says long time Coach John Holliday, "The boys and girls competed very hard. You could see it in their eyes during the race and in their times when it was over. We truly believed we could compete for the championship.
"Even though that was not to be, if we hadn't gone for it, we may not have finished with runner-up awards. Coaches talk all the time about being proud of a team's efforts, but no one has been more proud than I on this day. Both teams have been working since June to get better and stronger and faster and the hard work is paying off. But we are not done yet."
Continued Holliday, "We have our regional championship to contend with now and both teams are right on the edge of qualifying for state. We not only have the largest region, we also have the most quality runners and teams.
"We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves once more just like we did today. Every step is a race with no time off until it is over. We have a lot of racing left in us and I know everyone will step up on Thursday."
The Blue Eagles will next race Thursday, Oct. 18, at Doddridge County Park. The boy's race is at 4:30 p.m. and the girls are to follow at 5:15 p.m., with awards to be presented at 6:15 p.m.
At the state regional championships, the top 10 individuals qualify for the state championships, along with the top four teams in the boys and the girls' fields.