They may have caught some people off-guard last year.

However, this fall, they were the hunted throughout the season.

Fortunately, they withstood all the targets on their backs and did something that hadn’t been done in 16 years.

The Explorers are state champions.

The Hudson boys cross country team highlighted another stellar fall season in the 44236 zip code.

The Explorers, who were the Division I runners-up in 2016, captured the gold medal for the first time since the Wesley Smith-led team won it all in 2001.

How dominant was Hudson?

It won every race it entered, smashed the field at both the Suburban League Super Duals and the Suburban League National Conference meet and topped it all off by winning the state competition by a mind-boggling 70 points.

Throughout the season, the Explorers were led by junior Adam Beucler.

But once again, Hudson’s secret to success was its overwhelming depth.

As they’ve done the last two years, the Explorers dominated their opponents by staying close together.

Three Hudson runners finished in the top 17 and five Explorers placed in the top 50 at the state meet.

What was the gap between Hudson’s top runner and its fifth runner? 

Less than 35 seconds.

Plus, five Explorers ran times of 16 minutes, 23 seconds or less.

It’s really hard to beat a team with that many blazing fast runners.

The Hudson girls cross country team wasn’t quite as dominant as its male counterparts. But let’s just say it was pretty darn close.

The Lady Explorers finished fourth at the state meet. That finish is their highest place at the state competition since I started working at Record Publishing Co. in 2000.

Like the boys, the Hudson girls stayed close together throughout the season.

The Lady Explorers had five runners reach the finish line in less than 20 minutes, and had two runners, freshman Brenna Beucler and senior Elizabeth Hinkle, finish in less than 19 minutes.

Hudson also won both the Suburban League Super Duals and the conference meet in convincing fashion.

Also, two golfers represented the 44236 zip code at the state tournament.

Freshman Ben Basta became the Explorers’ next dynamo on the links.

Basta, who was Hudson’s top golfer for much of the season, finished in a tie for 20th place at the state competition.

On the girls’ side, junior Jenn David returned to the state meet after a dazzling sophomore season. David finished in a tie for 24th place at the state competition, and her 69 she shot earlier in the season is a school record.

Considering that score is better than former Lady Explorer legends Hillery Wilson and Natalie Goodson, you could make an argument that David could be Hudson’s greatest female golfer of all time when it’s all said and done.

Back in the early 2000s, the Explorers were a force on the pitch.

The Hudson boys soccer team won the state title in 2002 and reached the Final Four in 2003. But the Explorers fell on tough times for a while until they got back to the Elite Eight in 2014.

Let’s just say Hudson hasn’t regressed.

The Explorers reached regional play for the second consecutive year and third time in four years.

Hudson achieved this goal despite losing 12 seniors from the previous year.

This year’s squad was led by Wilson Sattele and seven other seniors. Many of those seniors did not play pivotal roles in 2016.

They sure did this year.

When it comes to the gridiron, the Explorers have made quite a name for themselves in recent years.

Hudson officially became a juggernaut when it won the Associated Press Division I state title and reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history back in 2014.

The Explorers proved they were no fluke by advancing to the Division II state semifinals the next two years.

Hudson couldn’t meet those impossible expectations this season.

Nonetheless, the Explorers advanced to the postseason for the seventh consecutive year despite injuries and a plethora of talented players who graduated the previous year.

The Hudson field hockey team’s season ended in disapointment.

Of course, when you have ridiculously high goals like the Lady Explorers do, anything less than an appearance in the state semifinals is not acceptable.

Well, I’ll be the exception.

Although its dream season fell short of the Final Four, the Lady Explorers reclaimed the Northeast Ohio Field Hockey League title after a one-year hiatus with a number of new faces.

Keep this in mind, too: Hudson had several underclassmen in the starting lineup during the autumn.

Last, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Lady Explorers tennis team.

One year ago, Hudson crowned its first state champion when Molly Sandberg blitzed through the field. This season, the Lady Explorers had several new faces in the lineup.

It didn’t take long for the newbies to become household names.

Hudson won its third consecutive outright Suburban League National Conference title despite losing several of its top players from the previous year.

In a nutshell, it was quite a season for a number of athletes in the 44236 zip code. But we should expect this sort of thing, right?

Since 2014, nine of Hudson’s 10 fall sports teams have reached either the regional or state level.

That lone exception was girls soccer, which had a legitimate excuse.

The Lady Explorers lost in the Kent Division I district final four straight years, including three times to eventual state champion Walsh Jesuit, from 2012 to 2015.

In other words, the Hudson sports teams have been rather exceptional when the leaves change colors in recent years.

And according to my crystal ball, I see no sign of a letdown coming any time soon.

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