Fairland cross country teams head for state meet
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio -- It was overcast, raining, quite windy and cold Monday afternoon when Fairland High School runner Megan Ashton stepped onto the school track for cross country practice. Her attire didn't seem appropriate for the elements, but the senior's smile showed she didn't mind one bit.
What made this day -- and what's supposed to be a miserable week weather wise -- tolerable is there's one more meet on the schedule, the biggest of the season.
Fairland's boys and girls teams qualified for the Ohio Division II Cross Country Championships scheduled Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio. The boys placed second and the girls won the title in the regional meet at Pickerington High School.
It's the second straight state trip for the boys. For the girls, it's the first time any Fairland runner made it this far.
"I'm thrilled. I can't wait to get out there," Ashton said before joining her teammates and coach Chuck Wentz on the track. "I've gone the last three years and watched someone else run and win. Now it's my turn."
Fairland's boys are girls are the only Division II state qualifiers from the Southeast District.
"It's huge for the girls," Wentz said. "This helps their confidence level. They put in the extra effort all year long."
In the latest Ohio Division II coaches poll, Fairland's boys tied for 17th and the girls tied for 14th.
"People are starting to realize who we are," Wentz said. "We've set the bar high for southern Ohio."
Granville won the boys regional title with 44 points and Fairland took second with 137. Senior Raine Wireman came in second to lead the Dragons.
"When he hit the mile mark, he looked smooth," Wentz said. "I knew we were going to have a good day. Coming in second was huge. We finished above most people's expectations."
Other Fairland placers at the regional were Chad McComas, 18th; Logan Rowe, 23rd; Josh Sifford, 44th; Conner Flynn, 50th; Taylor Lewis, 58th; and Adam Taylor, 81st. Wireman and Rowe are the only seniors.
"This shows last year wasn't luck," said Wireman, who placed 13th and helped the Dragons finish fifth in the state in 2011. "We've been training hard and we've got talent. We knew we could repeat. The burden's off our shoulders. This time we won't be nervous. We've been improving."
In the girls race, Fairland and Granville staged quite a duel. When Jessica Prince placed 27th for the Dragons -- Granville's fifth runner came in 37th -- they won with 99 points to 102 for the Blue Aces. Megan Ashton came in 13th to lead Fairland. Shanan Ashton was 15th, Taylor Perry 20th, Sydney Pettit 24th, Mariah Chaffin 60th and Paige Looney 66th. Megan Ashton, Pettit and Chaffin are seniors.
"She's a leader," Wentz said of Megan Ashton. "She's upped her work ethic. She's so excited. We were seeded second, third or fourth and she kept telling her teammates would could win it."
"I'm still kind of in shock. It hasn't set in yet," Ashton said. "Every year, making state is always the goal and we kept getting closer. This time we made it. When I came across first (for her team), I thought I did my part. I turn around, see our fifth girl come across and I knew we had it."
Wentz challenged both teams with difficult schedules, starting with the OHSAA Pre-Season Classic on Aug. 18 on the state meet course. The Dragons competed against top teams again in the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 25. During the season, the teams showed well at the GEICO Classic, their own Run by the River, Gallia Academy Invitational and Rio Grande Invitational.
Megan Ashton said the trip to National Trail Raceway and Pickering in early August got Fairland started on the road to the state.
"We learned a lot," she said. "We know how to run the course and who we'll see. We didn't give ourselves enough credit in the past. We do now.
"It's been a phenomenal season. Train in the rain and cold ... I'm happy. It's my last year, we extended our season one more week and that means a lot."