Last year marked the end of a splendid era for one proud team that makes its home on Hudson Aurora Road.
Will we say goodbye to another magnificent epoch this fall?
As many natives know, the Hudson High School boys cross country team has been pretty decent in recent years.
Actually, a little more than pretty decent.
The Explorers enter the 2019 season as the back-to-back defending Division I state champions.
They didn’t exactly come out of nowhere prior to the past two years either.
Hudson was the 2016 runner-up after finishing seventh the previous year.
If the Explorers hope to continue their reign of excellence, some new faces will have to make names for themselves.
That’s because Hudson lost some major talent, including a trio of stars who plan to continue their excellent distance careers on the Division I collegiate level.
Of course, we’ve been through this process before, haven’t we?
Remember when Kyle Mau and Gavin Gaynor dominated the 5k courses?
As hard as it is to believe, the Explorers actually got better without the services of their two studs, who are currently competing for major Division I college squads.
In fact, when I interviewed Mau, a rising senior at Indiana University Bloomington who recently earned first-team All-American honors, I couldn’t resist my urge to ask him an unthinkable question.
Perhaps he, along with Gaynor, were slightly overrated as high school athletes?
We both got a chuckle at such a thought. But the truth is, the Explorers will most likely be just fine this fall.
That’s mainly because of their head coach, who also was a decent distance runner during his days wearing the blue and white colors. Mark McConnell has turned the program into a juggernaut since he became the head coach in 2014.
Mau certainly believes his former coach is a difference maker. As the former 3,200-meter state champion eloquently put it, his alma mater’s "success is the product of the culture he [McConnell] created."
As I mentioned earlier, one fantastic period of time reached its sad conclusion last year.
Nonetheless, it sure was a fabulous era for the Hudson football team.
The Explorers suffered a losing season after qualifying for the state playoffs an impressive seven straight years. Three of those trips included appearances in the state semifinals.
Will Hudson prove that last season’s drop-off was a total fluke? I certainly would like to think so.
The Explorers’ feeder program has been churning up some rather remarkable athletes for quite some time.
By the way, two of them, Ben Gedeon and Brian Winters, are currently playing in the NFL.
Speaking of exceptional athletes, the Hudson field hockey team partied like it was 2015 last season.
The Explorers reached the state final for the second time in four years with a 17-4 record.
Hudson lost some top talent, but I have a hunch a massive collapse isn’t in the forecast. The Explorers’ next priority is this: capturing a state championship that has eluded them since 1996.
If I had to pick a group of individuals that excites me more than anything, it’s the Hudson girls cross country team.
The Explorers have a streak of their own that should continue in the coming years.
Hudson enters the 2019 season with four straight appearances at the state meet.
Considering that their top seven runners are expected to be back, another trip to Hebron for the Explorers is pretty much inevitable in this reporter’s mind.
Hudson’s athletes can use their feet in other ways, too.
Both the boys and girls soccer teams reached Division I district title games last fall. In case you forgot, the girls defeated a pretty decent squad to get to the championship game.
That would be Walsh Jesuit, which has won about, oh, more than 100 state championships in its storied history.
The Hudson girls golf team will have to get used to life without Jenn David. That will be a tall task, indeed.
David, a 2019 graduate who plans to play golf at the University of Akron, was a three-time state qualifier and may be considered the Explorers’ greatest female golfer in school history.
Fear not, though, Hudson fans.
It’s likely I said the same thing when another legend graduated in 2011. That young lady’s name is Natalie Goodson, who reached the state competition twice.
Keep this in mind too: David wasn’t a state-quality golfer when she competed for the Explorers as a freshman.
Not even close.
Therefore, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see another major superstar appear out of the woodwork.
The Hudson boys golf team hopes to get back on top of the Suburban League National Conference mountain.
I like their chances. Consider this question: How many seniors played on last year’s squad?
As always, I feel pretty good about the Hudson girls tennis team, as well. For the first time since the Suburban League expanded to a 15-team, two-conference format, the 2018 Explorers didn’t win the conference title.
Like the boys golf team, Hudson will be returning most of its nucleus with one notable exception. The Explorers’ No. 1 singles’ player, Susie Fan, graduated last month.
The Hudson girls volleyball team struggled a bit last season. Nonetheless, the Explorers were just two points away from reaching a Division I district title match.
Good luck to all of the athletes as the fall season draws near. I have a feeling a fabulous era is going to continue for at least a few talented squads.
As for the other teams looking to find their way, I’m just as stoked to see their magnificent new eras begin.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.