Reloading time? Hudson boys cross country looks to another big fall

Explorers seek to improve on eighth-place finish at state meet

STEVE BATKO Correspondent
Hudson's Titan Casey runs toward the finish line during Stow Bulldog Cross Country Invitational last fall. Casey is one of three returning runners from Hudson's state qualifying team last fall.

Battling some adversity and the loss of another strong graduating class, the Hudson boys cross country program appears to simply be re-loading this fall.

Well, it’s never that simple – seven-year Explorer head coach Mark McConnell knows that much.

Hudson placed eighth at Ohio’s Division I state meet last fall as the Explorers reached the state championships for the sixth consecutive season.

The regional runners-up and district champions did lose some key athletes to graduation as Hudson looks to make another statement this fall – even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the athletes have been handing a lot of the challenges of this season very well,” said McConnell.

“The OHSAA has created many guidelines this year to ensure athlete, coach, official and spectator safety,” he added. “When our athletes are not running, they are focusing on wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing. We also encourage our runners to wash their hands regularly.”

The early focus is with scheduling, which would likely include Suburban League rivals. Last year, the Explorers were the league’s National Conference champions over Brecksville and third-place Stow-Munroe Falls.

Graduates include Andrew Goldslager, Ethan Smith, Luke Good, James Banko, Michael Von Ville, Mays Jones and Jack Seifert.

Goldslager ran 15th in Ohio in the team race to lead the Explorers with a time of 15:58. He was a four-year runner.

Hudson features some strong returning talent in the program with some intriguing youth, but early this season, the team is focusing on safety and individual training.

“My coaching staff and I have been telling the boys since the beginning of the summer to control what you can control,” emphasized McConnell. “Be safe and focus on your own training and whatever happens with our season or during the season that we can get through as a team and be the best versions of ourselves.”

McConnell likes how his club looks – possibly having more team balance and better depth overall in the program.

Three athletes return from running at the state meet – senior Jack Root, senior Kyle Betz and junior Titan Casey.

Casey has loads of ability as he finished 30th overall in Ohio. He was fifth at districts.

Blessed with tremendous experience, Root is back after running 36th in Ohio as a junior. Root was seventh at districts overall and fourth in the league, just in front of Casey.

Root and Casey made first team all-league a year ago.

Betz came on strong last season and hopes to continue that trend. Betz finished 92nd in Ohio last season.

McConnell has a wealth of experienced runners in senior Gabe Shale, junior Drew Hartline, senior Daniel Bell, junior Ben Romano, sophomore Colin LeVan, junior Kyle Papczun, junior Mack Daberko, junior Abe Goldslager, senior Alex Zito, and junior Matt Good.

“This season could be a very successful one,” said McConnell. “We have a lot more depth on the team this year which can result in a very successful season for both our varsity and JV teams.”

“We have a good team that I believe has a great shot at returning to the state championship race this fall,” said McConnell.

First up, Hudson hopes to defend the Suburban League National Conference crown.

“I believe that we are one of the top teams in the league and we should be one of the teams in contention for the league title this year,” said McConnell, who was named the 2019 Coach of the Year in the SL National.

As usual, the Explorers have an exciting cast of newcomers who should make a solid impact.

Top newcomers, according to McConnell, are seniors Elliot Durkee and Grady Zappone, plus a deep freshman class: Noble Jones, Oliver Ivey, Nick Hannum, Jacob Liesen, Jonah Mikolay, Jack Weldon, Mathew Banko, Scott Bayliss, Jimmy Brainard, Alec Butina, Will Chaney, Alex DiMassa, Isaac Gallegos, Owen Schilkowski and Aali Shah.