Andrew Ploskunak extends Aurora's state streak to seven

Jonah Rosenblum
Record-Courier
Aurora's Andrew Ploskunak at the Boardman Regional.

BOARDMAN — The streak is alive.

For the seventh straight season, the Greenmen will send a runner to the state meet.

COVID-19 put that run in jeopardy when junior Matt Singleton, Aurora's lone state qualifier last year who was seeking his third straight trip downstate, was forced to quarantine as a result of being in contact with someone who had it.

His longtime running mate, fellow junior Andrew Ploskunak, kept the streak alive, finishing 30th at the Boardman Regional with a time of 17:26.0. 

(Ploskunak needed to finish in the top 32 of the Division I boys race in order to qualify.)

"I was relieved," Ploskunak said. "I really didn't want to get 33rd. I was relieved that I was able to stave some kids off and make it out."

It was close Saturday and Ploskunak knew it.

How close?

He finished in 17:26.0. 

Cuyahoga Falls junior Luke Bowlsby crossed the line 3.3 seconds later and did not qualify.

"I knew it was tight," Ploskunak said. "It was tight the whole race."

His Division I race was packed with talent, loaded with schools far bigger than Aurora. Consider that 79 Division I boys runners cleared the 18-minute mark. (Compared to 33 Division II runners.)

"There were always people around me, not really any separation," Ploskunak said. "I knew they were coming up on me. I was pretty scared."

But Ploskunak made it.

A year ago, he came close on the opposite side, finishing in 17:01.57 to take 48th.

Unsurprisingly, falling just short in 2019 heightened his expectations for 2020.

"I was pretty close," Ploskunak said. "So I felt like I should be able to get it." 

His goal firmly in mind, Ploskunak and Singleton trained together, competed against each other and looked to head to state together.

"When you have two talented athletes on the team and you're constantly chasing that, it always makes you better," Aurora coach Laura Bell said. "And so that's really what he's been doing. He just keeps trying to catch Matt, and at practice, he's neck and neck with him. It's great."

But 2020, a year full of nasty curveballs for everyone, handed Ploskunak and the rest of the Greenmen a nasty curveball as well, with Singleton removed from their postseason run.

"They're always together," Bell said. "So to not have him today in the race, I think mentally that definitely took an impact, but Andy is tough. He's a tough competitor, he's strong and he is very bright, so he knew what he needed to do today."

Part of what he needed to do was set a new mark, so he took aim at Lake's Ian Clevinger, who finished 16th at the Boardman Regional, as well as a couple of runners from Suburban American rival Highland.

"I knew I needed to get out and there were a couple of guys," Ploskunak said. "I knew the guys I needed to be with if I wanted to make it out."

And he succeeded.

Now, Ploskunak, who traveled down Interstate 71 to watch Singleton run at state the past two seasons, gets his first chance at the state meet.

"I think it will be exciting," Ploskunak said. "It's a brand-new course so who knows what can happen."

MORE ON THE GREENMEN

Certainly, there's reason to think the streak will not stop at seven.

Singleton, a state qualifier in 2018 and 2019, and Ploskunak, a state qualifier this season, are expected to return for the Greenmen boys.

And the Aurora girls are on the rise as well with sophomore Grace Barto continuing to climb the ranks, finishing 43rd in 21:01.3 Saturday. Barto was just one of several Aurora runners to improve massively from last year's regional meet as senior Mikayla Jones rose 29 spots (from 106th to 77th) and junior Stephanie Lubin went from 144th to 95th Saturday.

"They're great improvements," Bell said. "It's just a stepping stone for the following season."

Aside from Jones and fellow senior Victoria Blechschmid (151st, 22:54.3), who capped their Greenmen careers Saturday. all are expected back in 2021.

As for the 2020 season, it was quite the year, with Ploskunak making state and the entire girls team advancing to the regional meet and creeping closer to sending some more runners to state, 

"We didn't know what the season was going to be like," Bell said. "We started off the season with were we going to make it to Picture Day and we accomplished that and then we were first told we were only going to get to run dual meets and then we got to run a couple invitationals.

"We ran three invitationals this season, so they didn't have a whole lot of depth of competition. Especially. when we ran the invitational, we were segregated in different heats, so maybe we ran against two or three teams, so their competition was limited and they're a young team. There's a lot of new faces on this squad."

A lot of new faces hungry for more in 2021.