Hudson boys cross country wins third regional title in four years

Steve Batko
Correspondent

Finishing ahead of a slew of state-ranked clubs, the Hudson boys cross country squad captured its third regional championship in the past four years.

After snagging a seventh consecutive district title, the Explorers promptly collected an impressive regional team championship at the always strong Boardman Division I Regional Championships.

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Despite some muddy conditions in spots, it was Hudson that stood alone at the top of action in the Spartan Stadium on Oct. 31.

“This is our third regional title in the last four years as we were runner-up last year,” commented excited veteran head coach Mark McConnell.

After winning other team championships throughout the 2019 season, Hudson made it easy to forget that the Explorers did not win a regional title as a team last fall.

That has changed as Hudson won the team championship, erasing last year’s runner-up finish to upstart Kenston.

Hudson captured the team crown with five runners in the top 31 spots to edge Cleveland St. Ignatius 116-148. Last fall, Hudson edged Ignatius for runner-up honors in the team race 134-178.

This time around, Hudson beat the Wildcats and bested third-place Kenston (155), along with Mentor (192), North Canton Hoover (216), Louisville (223) and Medina (231).

“This is the seventh consecutive state team qualification for Hudson,” said McConnell.

Led by senior Elliott Durkee, the Explorer’s top-five gap time showed a remarkable 26.7-second spread, which was the best in the regional field.

With a superb effort, Hudson had the smallest spread, easily edging Kenston (30.4 ticks), and Solon (34.7), which grabbed the eighth and final team berth to states by edging Massillon Jackson 253-265, GlenOak (286), and Stow-Munroe Falls (290).

“The 1-5 gap was impressive,” declared McConnell.

“It was the main reason we were so strong,” added McConnell, who also saw his troops battle tough conditions with the mud. “It was definitely one of our best top five gap times of this year.”

Incredibly, Hudson beat 11 state-ranked teams in the challenging Boardman regional field.

In the Pre-Regional and 9th weekly OATCCC Division I poll, Hudson was ranked 10th in Ohio and beat Ignatius (ranked fifth), Kenston (seventh), Mentor (ninth), Hoover (14th), Louisville (15th), Solon (16th), Jackson (18th), GlenOak (19th), Medina (23rd) Stow (26th), and Lakewood St. Edward (31st).

As a first-year senior, Durkee continued his storybook season as he paced Hudson with a clocking of 17 minutes and 8.0 seconds.

Durkee finished 12th overall and it was his first ever regional championship race as this is his first season in cross country.

“Elliott ran a great race,” declared McConnell. “He went out with the leaders and hung tough the whole way.”

Uniontown Lake’s Nathan Moore won the division I race as he posted a swift time of 16:26.2 in the conditions at Boardman.

Garnering second-place for Hudson was talented junior Titan Casey. He placed 26th with a time of 17:22.4.

“Titan had one of the best races he has had all season,” pointed out McConnell. “He is coming around at the right time.”

Senior Kyle Betz also stood out for the Explorers as he was the team’s third man in at Spartan Stadium. Fighting through the muddy spot on the course, Betz crossed in 17:24.1, which was good for 29th-place.

“Kyle has been impressive all year,” pointed out McConnell.

“To miss most of it with injury and then to run the way he is right now is a true testament to doing the right thing when you are injured, can pay off in the end,” explained McConnell.

Seniors Jack Root and Gabe Shale were Hudson’s fourth and fifth runners at regionals.

However, it’s important to note that, other than Hudson (Root), the highest finish among fourth-place runners in the team race was Ignatius as the Wildcat’s fourth runner was back in 42nd-place.

Root, who led Hudson in district action, placed 34th overall with a time of 17:32.4.

Crossing in 17:34.7, Shale contributed with a 38th-place effort.

By contrast, the next closest team with a fifth-place finisher was Kenston at 58th-place – a whopping 20 places behind Shale.

“Root and Shale did not have their best days, but showed amazing toughness in the mud and came back in the final mile of the race,” observed McConnell.

“Their rally was why we won,” emphasized McConnell.

Hudson will compete at the 92nd annual boys state championships in Division I at the Fortress Obetz, a multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex in Obetz, Ohio. Action starts at 3 p.m.

According to McConnell, the Explorers alternates for the state meet are Kyle Papczun, Ben Romano, Colin LeVan, and Alex Zito.

Papczun and Romano are junior, LeVan is a sophomore, and Zito is an experienced senior for Hudson.

Junior Drew Hartline and senior Daniel Bell also raced at regionals for the deep Explorers.

Hartline finished 112th overall and put up a time of 18:19.9 while the experienced Bell ran 118th overall out of 192 runners as he registered a clocking of 18:24.9.

After finishing eighth in Ohio in Division I a year ago, it’s difficult to project how the Explorers will fare at the state championships.

“The state meet is always challenging every year,” emphasized McConnell. “This year I think we will be very competitive with the top five teams in the state and I believe we are definitely a top 10 team again this year.”

McConnell knows that southern Ohio, specifically the Cincinnati area, is loaded with talent and team depth.

Defending Ohio champion Cincinnati St. Xavier, along with West Chester Lakota West, Hilliard Davidson, Mason, Dayton Beavercreek, plus two teams from Dublin (Jerome and Coffman High), and Loveland are all teams to be reckoned with.

Mason was the Ohio runner up in 2019, just ahead of Solon.

Ignatius and Kenston will also be in the hunt along with Mentor.

As for his own thoughts regarding a top five or 10 finish, McConnell knows that anything can happen at states.

“Although none of that matters, the guys that step up can shock others in this race,” pointed out McConnell.

“We need to be ready and that will be our focus all week as we prep for states.”