No repeat magic for Tigers

HEBRON – One year after it all went so right, too much of it went wrong.

McDonald senior Bobby Johnson pulled away from Jared Stockmaster after the first mile en route to the individual title, Jason Willman’s stress fracture finally hobbled him and the talent and depth of the other teams proved too much to handle Saturday as Seneca East saw its hopes of a repeat title dashed at the Division III state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway.

“It’s the cruelty of sports. It comes down to a few moments and in our race, it’s about 16 minutes, 17 minutes, and you’ve got to get it done then, and today we just didn’t do that,” Seneca East coach Doug Mason said after his Tigers ended seventh.

But they were close to a much higher spot.

McDonald outlasted fellow perennial power Maplewood 94-103 for the title, with Garaway taking third with 141 points.

Just seven points separated fourth through seventh – Summit Country Day 171, Gilmour Academy 174, Liberty Center 177 and Seneca East 178.

“Division III is just so insane. You have great programs like McDonald and Maplewood. They’ve had a stranglehold on these state titles,” Mason said.

“Northeast Ohio, they just have a stranglehold on that state title, and I guess that’s what makes it so special winning it last year; we were able to steal one from that group,” he said. “This year, we faced obstacles all season long and we just couldn’t put together the race we needed to put together today. It’s disappointing because these kids put in so much time and effort.”

The obstacles included Stockmaster having to recuperate from a broken arm suffered in the offseason, Willman missing most of the season with a stress fracture and the team having a bull’s-eye on its back as the 2012 state champs.

A re-start at the beginning of this year’s state race didn’t do the Tigers any favors, either.

“The restart, honestly, that messed everything up,” Seneca East’s Wes Pipher said. “We got out good [on the first start]. Obviously, Jason didn’t get out as fast, but he said that we were right there; we were going and then we heard the guns. It just threw everything off,” he said. “I think we still got out there, though. Jared got out there, and me and Jason and Carson (Pipher, his twin) got out where we needed to be and kind of just went with it.

“Jason was up there early, and he had that pain and I think that slowed him down at the end of the race; still fought it,” Pipher said.

Willman, one of two seniors on the team, finished his final high school race in 17:42.36 to take 87th.

He said his injury got the better of him after the first mile, and his inability to adequately prepare in the week leading up to state – he returned to a walking boot after re-aggravating the injury at the regional – also played a big role.

“I didn’t run at all this week. After regionals, I think I messed it up again. But today, it was a combination of the foot and the fact that I haven’t been running. I’d been training, but it’s just not the same as running,” he said.

“I held on for the first mile and then my conditioning started kicking in – the lack of conditioning,” Willman said.

Despite the setback suffered by the Tigers and Willman, there were positives.

Stockmaster finished fifth in 16:15.99 and Wes Pipher crossed the line 20th in 16:37.85, with both juniors earning All-Ohio honors.

Stockmaster’s race to a spot on the podium included him holding a lead in the first mile.

“It felt really weird because I never would have expected it to happen so fast,” he said. “And it felt really good, too, but I knew that I had to keep working for it so I kept trying to get a bigger and bigger lead on (Johnson), but I could hear him coming the whole way, right on me; as I sped up, he’d speed up even more.”

Johnson passed him after the first mile, and three others did over the final few hundred meters.

Mason said another year of seasoning should help counter that next year.

“Those kids have a little stronger finish than him and hopefully being a junior, next year he’ll have that same physical strength and be able to go right up to the front. He just couldn’t hold off that little pack that was there for second place,” Mason said. “Had a great race. He’s had a great season, and obviously a lot to build on for next year as one of the top Division III runners in the state.”

Carson Pipher added a 50th (17:06.66) for the Tigers, Willman ended 87th and junior Bryce Watson closed out the scoring by taking 120th (18:11.17).

Junior Michael Szabo (121st, 18:14.61) and senior Robby Schaffer (134th, 18:59.41) also ran for the Tigers, who Mason said shouldn’t stay down long.

“As coaches, we don’t enjoy the wins enough, we dwell on our short comings. We’ve just got to remind ourselves we’ve had an excellent season, we have a great program,” Mason said. “We’ll bounce back and we’ll learn from this event. We’re always tweaking things and we’ll come back and race another day.”