The Cuyahoga Falls boys cross country team ran with one less person than the rest of the competition. And to top it off, that particular gentleman is the Black Tigers' top runner.
Falls survived and performed admirably despite missing a key ingredient. But the Black Tigers' chances of getting a silver medal in the Suburban League National Conference are in serious jeopardy.
Falls finished in a three-way tie for fourth place at the Suburban League Super Duals, which took place Saturday at Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton.
The Black Tigers, Stow-Munroe Falls and Wadsworth finished with 3-4 records. Hudson, the defending Division I state champion, won with a 7-0 mark. Brecksville-Broadview Heights finished 6-1 and Nordonia posted a 5-2 record. Falls defeated North Royalton (24-31), Twinsburg (24-31) and the Grizzlies (27-28). The Black Tigers lost to the Explorers (17-46), Bees (22-34), the Bulldogs (26-29) and Nordonia (25-30).
Falls had a bit of a difficult obstacle to overcome. The Black Tigers had just six runners compete in the varsity race. And that missing runner happens to be a 2017 state qualifier.
Junior Jack Wilcoxson started the race, but soon pulled out due to cramping. "He's OK," Falls head coach Bob Koch said. "We're being careful with him. It doesn't seem to be anything serious."
The rest of the Falls' runners certainly picked up the slack, but a healthy Wilcoxson could have allowed the Black Tigers to move up a place or two. "It definitely could have," Koch said. "It is what it is. We don't key on this race since it's the second race of the year."
Considering his team beat three opponents without its top runner certainly spoke volumes. Such a fact was not lost on Koch. "Overall, I thought we did pretty well," he said. "Our average was six seconds slower than we were at Green [Aug. 25], but there were warmer temperatures and it was a tougher course."
With Wilcoxson hurting, Falls' No. 1A runner shined brightest. Junior Anthony Nichols finished sixth with a time of 17 minutes, 4 seconds. Hudson's Adam Beucler placed first out of 133 runners with a clocking of 16:16. "Anthony ran an amazing race," Koch said. "He went out hard and was in total control the whole way."
Twin brothers Tony Sondles (35th, 17:58) and Joey Sondles (51st, 18:22), both juniors, were Falls' second and fourth runners, respectively. "Tony ran better than he ever has," Koch said. "He ran with Anthony in the beginning of the race. He pulled away from Eric [Czetli] in the third mile.
"Joey is learning very fast. This is his first year running since elementary school. He ran a pretty good second mile and his third mile was fast. Joey and Eric run very well together."
Czetli, another junior, was the Black Tigers' third runner. He finished 46th in 18:19.
Rounding out the team scoring for Falls was freshman Stanley Shuck (62nd, 18:42). Black Tigers' was sophomore Lukas Keverkamp also ran (19:59). "Stanley ran very well," Koch said. "It was only his second 5k ever. Lukas went out a little too aggressively. He fought through the pain and the pace."
Koch also had high praise for junior Nik Andromalos (10th, 19:15) and freshman Sean Langbein (22:18), who both ran in the open race. "Nik broke his PR [personal record] at Green and then he broke it again by 11 seconds on a harder course. He would have been in our top seven in the varsity race.
"Sean ran a PR by 10 seconds. He is starting to gain more confidence. He believes he can do well."
Falls is scheduled to run at the Pat Ritchie Invitational Saturday at Walsh Jesuit High School. The Black Tigers are set to compete at the Galion Cross Country Festival Sept. 15 at 3 p.m.
"There will be great competition at Galion," Koch said. "It's a fast course and we'll see schools from Cincinnati and Toledo."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.