PENINSULA — The Bulldogs figured to be good coming off a state title and returning six of seven runners that competed at Hebron last season.
The Woodridge boys were as advertised Sept. 28, winning the CVNP Invitational with ease. The Bulldogs had five of the day’s top ten runners, including the top two (Ryan Champa and Micah Blair), to finish 56 points ahead of runner-up Brecksville.
"They expected to be pretty good," Bulldogs coach Jeff Howard said. "We’re pretty deep, so the guys behind them are keeping them honest, and if you’re not ready to race, someone is ready to take your spot, so they’ve done a nice job, had a big summer and it’s paying off for them."
For Champa, a junior, it wasn’t just his summer that paid off. It was a bit of a gamble that paid off as he ran an especially aggressive first mile — given Saturday’s heat — en route to winning the CVNP Invitational with a time of 17:23.9 (for a 19.5-second margin of victory).
"Ryan indicated that he took a little chance today," Howard said. "He went out in 4:57 at the mile, which, even on this course, our first mile is fast and then it gets crazy after that, but he took a chance and it paid off."
Senior Micah Blair took second, in 17:42.5, and sophomore Aaron Dutt gave the Bulldogs three runners under 18 minutes, taking fifth with a 17:59.5. Juniors Zayd Elkurd (8th, 18:22.1) and Andrew Lauck (10th, 18:39.2) capped the scoring for Woodridge, which won without two of its top runners Saturday.
Whereas Sam Dutt was merely out for the day, interviewing with the Air Force Academy, senior Riley Galehouse’s return time is less certain after he was the fourth Bulldogs runner to cross the line at state last year.
"I don’t know about Riley," Howard said. "He’s got a hamstring thing. We thought we had him back at Boardman and he tweaked it a little bit higher, so they think they figured out where he has some strength issues and they’re working on it, so it would be late, if at all, but I think with the team we have, you just got to keep moving forward."
Earlier Saturday, senior Libby Howard got to run one final race on her home course, Kendall Hills, taking fourth with a 22:00.2.
While the CVNP Invitational is the home meet for every Woodridge runner, it’s especially so for Howard, who ran the Fun Run as a little girl and has been coming to the CVNP Invitational all her life.
"This is my 26th year and this is our 34th event and we’ve done it every year I’ve been here," Jeff Howard said. "So (my daughters) have been here since they were born."
Injuries limited the senior at times throughout her career, to the point that Saturday marked her first time running the CVNP Invitational since she took ninth her freshman year, but as a senior, she was once again able to excel at Kendall Hills.
"It’s nice to see kids, and she’s not the only one, we have a ton of kids that deserve to run well, kids that put a lot of time in and work really hard," Howard said. "So it’s good to see them receive some benefits for that and I was happy for her as a coach and as my daughter."
In a similar vein, junior Anastasia Bakuhn managed to take ninth after taking 16th as a sophomore and 18th as a freshman.
"She handled the heat really well and really did a super job and she’s just a really committed girl," Howard said. "She works extremely hard, does all the little things right, she eats really well, she takes care of herself, lot of strength training stuff, I think she’s really committed herself to being a good runner."
Five more Woodridge runners crossed within 30 seconds of each other: junior Elise Carey (26th, 23:32.0), freshman Joy McFarland (27th, 23:40.4), junior Leah Ziegler (28th, 23:43.0), junior Anna Wojcik (30th, 23:51.8) and sophomore Leighton Kline (32nd, 24:00.9). Even with sophomore Izzy Best not garnering her usual points (she took 10th at Kendall Hills a year ago) as she battled sickness on an especially hot Saturday, the Bulldogs finished behind only Ft. Loramie.
"I think Anastasia Bakuhn had an outstanding race today and then our pack came through real nice so I’m pleased," Howard said. "I think some of our 6-7-8-9-10 girls are going to be pressing and I think we can maybe make a push."