Since the beginning of last year, the Cuyahoga Falls boys cross country team has gotten people’s attention after being an afterthought for quite some time.
The surging Black Tigers continue to impress.
And they just missed getting a first-place trophy against some quality competition.
Falls finished second with 57 points at the eight-team Green Bulldog Invitational last Saturday at Boettler Park in Uniontown.
Wooster barely held off the Black Tigers with 55 points and Wadsworth, a Suburban League National Conference rival, took third with 85 points.
The race was extremely competitive the whole way, but longtime Falls head coach Bob Koch had a hunch his team would get the silver and not the gold.
"We knew it would be really close," he said. "Just looking at Wooster’s positions, I knew we didn’t quite do it."
Nonetheless, it would be wise to take note of the Black Tigers, who had a winning record in the vaunted National Conference last year. Falls has hopes of running in November.
And Saturday’s race showed the Black Tigers may have what it takes to be among the elite.
Their top two runners certainly seem to be in a stratosphere that involves Ohio’s best distance runners.
Jack Wilcoxson, a state qualifier last fall, led Falls with a third-place time of 17 minutes, 6 seconds.
Boardman’s Mitchel Dunham finished first out of 73 runners with a clocking of 16:41 and Aurora’s Matthew Singleton was the runner-up in 17:01.
Wilcoxson has hopes of reaching the podium at the 2018 state meet. He is certainly on his way to possibly accomplishing that goal since he has a teammate who is just as fast.
In fact, it’s most likely a given that Anthony Nichols will be chasing down Wilcoxson the entire season.
Nichols ran ahead of Wilcoxson during certain stretches of the race and ended up in fourth with a time of 17:11.
"Anthony and Jack were first and second the majority of the race," Koch said. "They took turns. They were shoulder to shoulder the whole race.
"There was a whole pack of Wooster kids and a Boardman kid. They were all together behind them. When they reached the woods, you can’t see what’s going on. When Jack and Anthony came back out, they were third and fourth."
Tony Sondles wasn’t too far behind his talented teammates as he placed 12th in a personal-best 17:50.
"Tony had a phenomenal race," Koch said. "It was windy and there were a lot more hills than I anticipated. He was up close with Jack and Anthony."
Eric Czetli experienced quite the adventure during the race. He placed 16th in 18:01 despite a ... well, wardrobe malfunction.
"Eric’s shoe came off," Koch said. "With about 600 meters left, he flipped the shoe to [Falls head girls coach Dan] Scourfield. Until that point, his shoe was still on, but it was coming off.
"That had to affect his race. It’s uncomfortable and it causes a huge difference in his length of stride."
Taking the fifth spot for the Black Tigers was Joey Sondles, who captured 22nd in 18:16.
Rounding out the top seven for Falls were Stanley Shuck (32nd, 18:40) and Thomas Gregory (40th, 18:53), who had a personal record by 17 seconds. Teammate Lukas Keverkamp was right behind Gregory in 41st (18:58).
"Everyone ran with a teammate and fed off each other," Koch said. "Joey and Stanley were 15 seconds apart at just about every point in the race. I think Stanley will be in the low 17s by the end of the year."
The Black Tigers are scheduled to run in the Suburban League Super Duals Saturday at Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton. Racing is set to begin at 9 a.m.
"Hudson is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll," Koch said. "They have a big team and a pretty good tradition. We’re one of four teams that could get silver."
Falls is scheduled to compete at the Pat Ritchie Invitational Sept. 8 at Walsh Jesuit High School. Racing is set to begin at 9 a.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.