Four area runners ready to take on National Trail Raceway

Two are returning, two are first-timers, none are fazed by it.

Four area runners will race as individuals Saturday at the state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, and their coaches feel the atmosphere of the season’s last meet – a career-ender for three of them – shouldn’t be a problem.

Columbian seniors Brandon Gibson and Tyler Lewis have the luxury of a teammate when they run in the Division I race.

It’s a return trip for Gibson, something coach John Kihorany said should be an advantage.

“Having gone down there last year, it kind of gets rid of all the first-year jitters, per se,” Kihorany said.

“He raced really well last year and he really didn’t run with any nerves,” he said.

Gibson ended his junior season with a personal-best 16:07.65 for 49th at state.

He lowered that PR to 15:37.46 while winning the regional crown, putting him just three seconds off the school record of Alan Boos, who won the state individual title in 1989.

Kihorany said a school record and All-Ohio honors are definitely Saturday’s goals.

He said aiming for a state title would be difficult – Gibson has the sixth-fastest time coming out of the regionals, with Boardman’s Mark Hadley leading the way with a 15:22.5 – but it’s not out the realm of possibility.

“You hope that you go into that race with a front-runner’s mentality, thinking ‘I won my regional, let’s see how the other regions compare to where I’m at,'” Kihorany said.

“I don’t know if you can go into a race in Division I in the state of Ohio and think ‘I’m going to be the state champ.’ I think you really need a few cards to play in your favor,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lewis makes his first trip to state and Kihorany feels that if the senior takes the same mental approach this week as he did last week, he’ll do just fine.

“He knew that he was kind of on the bubble [to reach state]. I think he was so intense at the regional meet,” Kihorany said.

“If I can just get him to carry over that intensity from the regional meet into the state meet, I think that will be a big advantage for him rather than to get down there and run scared,” he said.

The other area runners will compete in the Division III races.

Calvert senior Olivia Smith returns to the state meet after being hobbled last year by a stress fracture.

The two-time defending 800 state champ nearly didn’t make it to Saturday’s final race, claiming the 16th and final individual state berth in a sprint over the final 50 meters.

“She has that never give up, that never die attitude,” Calvert coach Stewart Behm said.

And with her previous state experience, Behm has no qualms about how she’ll do.

“Even when you go back to her sophomore year when she won state in the 800, I think a lot of the reason she did as well as she did is because she didn’t let the nerves get to her, she didn’t let the pressure get to her,” Behm said. She just went out and ran the race she had to run.

“She’s going to approach the cross country meet in 2013 with that same attitude. She’s going to go out there, she’s going to work hard, but she’s going to have fun doing it,” he said. “Things like this, if it does faze her, she doesn’t show it and I really don’t think that it bothers her. I think she thrives on this type of competition, I think she looks forward to this competition and I think she’s just going to go down there and make the most of it.”

That’s exactly the attitude Carey coach Dean Kessler hopes freshman Trevor Cook utilizes in the boys Division III race, along with just soaking up the moment.

That’s what happens when you’re the first from your school to do something.

“It’s obviously pretty cool to be the first one from Carey to go, and the fact that he’s a freshman was probably in his favor because he basically had nothing to lose,” Kessler said. “This was all new territory for him and he had an opportunity presented to himself and he just took advantage of it.

“He’s extremely talented, he’s very coachable, a very nice young man, and he works very hard in practice, and everything just all fell together for him,” he said.

“I think it all is just part of the learning experience for him, and I think he probably has less pressure on him than somebody going there who’s a senior and knows it’s their last shot,” Kessler said. “I think he goes down there just as a newbie, as a learner and he’s got the advantage of soaking it all in, doing what he can and moving on from there and having bigger goals for next year.”