Woodridge OH boys, Bowling Green OH girls,
Emil Heineking, Bekah Smeltzer claim 2006 titles!
Emil Heineking (Ieft) wins boys Race of Champs. At right, Christy Titus leads girls ROC winner Bekah Smeltzer.
By Steve Underwood
A steady start and a strong finish seemed to be the theme for the varsity races at the Saturday, Sept. 9 Midwest Meet of Champions – even for the meet itself.
Coming back after a one-year hiatus, the Hilliard OH event wasn’t quite as big as years past, but definitely has made a great start on a comeback, with many Ohio’s best in attendance, as well as a few select standout teams and individuals from Michigan and Indiana. They were greeted with a new, flat, fast course around Hilliard Darby’s grounds, which was exceedingly fan-friendly.
Meanwhile, boys’ Race of Champions winner Woodridge OH and girls’ Race of Champions individual champ Rebekah Smeltzer utilized a similar philosophy on an increasingly warm (70s), sunny day. Woodbridge’s boys, a favorite for the best D2 team in the state, moved up one-by-one after the mile and surprised MW#5 Cincinnati (OH) LaSalle, 50-79. Smeltzer waited until the final 300 meters to surge past Bowling Green’s Christy Titus, 18:14-18:23.
On the other hand, no one was going to quite catch boys’ ROC winner Emil Heineking or the Bowling Green girls as a team. Heineking took the lead well before the mile mark, passed in a swift 4:42, and went on to a 15-second win in 15:14. The Bobcat girls, winners of the last three D1 state titles, dealt with challenges from several teams before grabbing the 15-point win with 79 points.
Moments after their seven athletes finished, the Woodridge boys came together with their coach Jeff Howard in a state of nervous excitement. Did they beat LaSalle? “I think we may have won, or we were at least close,” said Coach Jeff Howard, at the time.
He was wrong. It wasn’t that close, as Woodbridge won at each of the top five spots and actually forged a 29-point margin. They got a great 2nd-5th finish from Scott Hilditch (15:29) and David Petrak (15:50), gaining six quick points on LaSalle’s 6th-7th of Kyle Lang (15:56) and Jake Nusekabel (16:00), and they built it from there. When Woodridge had four in before LaSalle’s third, the outcome was all but set. They went Brian Himelright (8th/16:03), Joey McCoy (13th/16:14), Daniel Petrak (22nd/16:35), Tony Marette (49th/17:16), and Matthew Weiss (50th/17:17).
What went right for Woodridge, went wrong for LaSalle. Said Coach Howard, “We talked a lot about going out conservatively in the heat so we could be strong in the second half. Scott ran like we thought he could, David was just unbelievable as our 2nd man, and our three, four, and five guys really came through.”
On the other hand, Coach Frank Russo’s Lancers were “too aggressive, too early,” he said. “I was disappointed with the way we approached the race. We should have been more patient.”
Maybe Heineking had something to do with it. Even on a fast course, probably not too many athletes were ready for a sub-4:50 start on a warm day. The senior took over on the first back loop and passed the mile in 4:42, with Lang next in 4:47 and then a loose pack of about 10 in 4:50 or so.
Shortly after that, Hilditch moved into 2nd and the rest of the Bulldogs started picking off foes. Lang fell back and, in some cases, so did some other Lancers. Heineking kept expanding his lead, passing 2M in 9:42 as Hilditch (9:53), Hilliard Darby’s Joseph Jackson, and Heineking’s teammate Luke Grau chased him.
In the end after Heineking and Hilditch, Grau would get by Jackson for third, 15:41-15:44. After Petrak and the first two LaSalle runners, it was Woodridge’s Brian Himelright (8th/16:07), Mayfield’s Reza Mohammadpour (9th/16:05), and Hilliard Davidson’s Nathan Tavenor (10th/16:07) rounding out the top 10. Heineking and Grau had enough support behind them for Chardon to get third behind Woodridge and LaSalle.
It was a big day for Woodridge, but one they had to keep in perspective. Last year they beat LaSalle at the Eisenhart meet (where they will also face them again this year), but by state meet day, they were third in D2 while LaSalle destroyed the competition in D1.
“This was a real fast course for us,” said Hilditch, one of several seniors on the team. “Coach wanted us not to go out too fast, but just wanted us to run to the best of our fitness. I felt strong all the way through.”
LaSalle ran two of their top seven with bronchitis (Mitchell Huesman) and a cold (Corey Spriggs), but Coach Russo didn’t want to use that as an excuse. “They beat us once last year and they’re a great team. They’ve given us great competition. We didn’t run as well today as we did the first two weeks.”
However, he added, “The season is a marathon. You can’t win the state meet in September. We’re going to face great teams all season, but that’s the way we planned it.”
For his part, Heineking hopes some great runners will rise up to push him as he works toward a state title and a Foot Locker Finals berth (he’s the 4th returnee). “I felt real good the first mile and knew I was strong enough to pull away,” he said. “4:42 is about the fastest I’ve ever gone out, but I wanted to give it a shot and get as close to 15:00 as possible.”
Heineking had a brutal upper respiratory infection that kept him out of training most of April, and stymied his attempt during the spring to improve on the 9:11 indoor 2-mile he posted in the winter. But he had a great summer of training, highlighted by a 24:49 when he jumped in a 5-mile road race. “I was very motivated after that,” he said.
Bowling Green’s Christy Titus has a reputation as a front-runner and a good kicker, but it’s hard to kick after 1.5 miles of constant pressure. Monroe (MI) Jefferson’s Rebekah Smeltzer applied that pressure and had the best finish, taking the lead and pulling away in the final 300 meters to win, 18:14-18:23.
With the 1-2 punch of Titus and Barbara Powers (5th/19:26), however, plus three more in the top 25, Bowling Green fended off three pretty good challengers to the team title. They scored 74 to Cincinnati St. Ursala’s 90, Salem’s 97, and Indianapolis Cathedral’s 105.
Titus took the lead from the gun. She passed the mile in 5:43, with Smeltzer, Colerain’s Erin Ragouzis, and Cathedral’s Katy Achtien trailing in 5:47-48. Then Smeltzer caught Titus halfway and they passed two in 11:43, followed by Ragouzis (11:55), Achtien (12:05), and the pack (12:26).
Apparently, Titus had no interest in relinquishing the lead and letting Smeltzer do some of the work. “I would make a surge and she would surge ahead,” said Smeltzer. “So I just made sure I kept my distance and stayed close so later I could make a move and hopefully pass her.”
When the senior and two-time state D2 champ did that, Titus had no response and had to settle for 2nd … but that was plenty good enough to join Powers in leading the Bobcat team attack. That duo was followed by Alyssa Glenn (20th/20:02), Shannon Titus (23rd/20:17), Anne-Marie Simon (24th/20:20), and Andrea Renny (41st/21:06). While St. Ursala, Salem, and Cathedral all had strong combinations, none quite put together BG’s front-running and depth.
“It was a good test for us,” said veteran BG coach Brian Tucker. “We’re trying to get our 7th girl back and are filling some slots in the meantime. Barbara Powers has been battling some allergies and a day like today is not good. But she really ran hard and she was determined to beat those two girls (battling her for fifth).
“Christy used a lot of energy leading out there,” he added. “We think as the season goes on, she’ll run under 18.”
The meet attracted 12 girls teams and 14 boys teams on its return, with Hillard Darby taking the reins to run the event.