The Todd Clark Invitational at Cloverleaf represented a bit of a step down in competition for Stow-Munroe Falls cross county after the meat grinder of the Spartan Invitational.

It also represented a step up in terms of heat and humidity. Temperatures were hovering close to 90 when the Bulldogs hit the course Saturday at Cloverleaf.

"Even the kids that were winning the races, they were coming in a minute off their best times," said Stow girls coach Aaron Morris. "It was a slow course to begin with.The heat was really cooking everybody."

With fast times all but impossible in such conditions, Stow concentrated on just trying to run with the competition. In that regard, the Bulldog coaches were happy.

Stow’s boys finished sixth in the 16-team varsity boys field at Cloverleaf with 159 points. Bay won the boys team title with 78 points. Meanwhile, the Stow girls finished seventh at Cloverleaf with 186 points. Shaker Heights dominated the field with 32 points.

"I was pretty pleased with how we competed," said Stow boys coach JK LeSeure. "The times weren’t very really great for anybody. We were really pleased with how we fared against the likes of Aurora and North Royalton."

"It was dry, which was nice, but they did make a few changes to the course," Morris said. "They had it finishing in the football stadium. The turf was even hotter than it was on the course." 

The front of Stow boys’ pack all came in together at Cloverleaf.

Junior Seth Macura finished 15th in 17:30.7, while freshman Micah Bentley was 17th in 17:35.4 and senior Cooper LeSeure was 19th in 17:39.8.

Cloverleaf’s Max Gucker won the boys varsity race in 16:20.

Coach LeSeure said he was happy to see only a nine-second gap between his top three runners.

"I was really pleased with that,"  LeSeure said. "Seth didn’t run badly. Micah and Cooper just ran closer to him. Seth ran faster than he did last year, but both guys were closing the gap and that’s what we need."

The issue for Stow was a gap of more than a minute between its third and fourth runners.

Sophomore Zach Duffy finished 48th in 18:48.9, while junior Henry Brosch finished 60th in the 18:58.7.

"We need that gap [between No. 3 and No. 4] to be smaller to be effective," LeSeure said. "We chose to run Luke Cimera in the open race to let him get a chance to get back into form. He would have been our No. 5 finisher in the varsity race."

Cimera ended up winning the boys open race for newer runners in a time of 18:541.

Elsewhere in the boys varsity race, senior Matt Duffy just missed scoring, as he finished 61st in 19:02.2, while senior Alex Virostek finished 93rd in 20:38.7.

LeSeure noted Duffy is still rounding into form, while Virostek was battling a stomach issue during the race.

In the girls race, sophomore Kendra Cassiday had Stow’s best finish of the day, taking seventh place in 20.55.3. Shaker Heights’ Avery Blaszak won the girls varsity race by more than a minute, finishing in 19:25.3.

"She raced really well," Morris said of Cassiday. "She put herself up their with the leaders and ran with them the whole time. She’s completely over the illness she had a couple weeks ago. We’re rounding her back into form."

Stow’s top freshmen came in next, as Grace Decker finished in 26th place in 22:22.4, while Josie Jones finished 42nd with a time of 22:56.

"Grace had a really nice race. She ran a fairly even race," Morris said. "She’s turning out to be very dependable for us. Josie came back and ran his race for us after missing last week. She didn’t miss much of a beat there."

Junior Madi Hedrick (52nd, 23:29.5) and junior Caitlyn O’Brien (59th, 23:47.7) rounded out the scoring runs for Stow. Sophomore Bella Baker (72nd, 24:42.3) also ran the varsity race for Stow. 

Morris noted the heat took its toll on senior Abi Kuhns, who did not finish the varsity race.

Stow was set to run the "U Wanna Come Back" Invitational at Madison Saturday. Up next will be Stow’s home race, as the Stow Bulldog Invitational will take place Oct. 5 at 9 a.m. at Silver Springs Park.

Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, or @MLeonard_GHO