Hudson packs in two National Conference cross country titles

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Jack Root of Hudson comes in second during the Suburban League National Conference race at Silver Creek Metro Park Cross Country Course on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Norton. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Runners  head to the one mile mark during the Suburban League National Conference race at Silver Creek Metro Park Cross Country Course on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Norton. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Jayla Atkinson of Stow-Munroe Falls races to a first place finish during the Suburban League National Conference race at Silver Creek Metro Park Cross Country Course on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Norton. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Elliot Durkee of Hudson leads the race as he heads to a first place finish during the Suburban League National Conference race at Silver Creek Metro Park Cross Country Course on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Norton. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Clare Nicholas of  Wadsworth races to a third place finish in front of Sydney Gallagher of Hudson who came in fourth during the Suburban League National Conference race at Silver Creek Metro Park Cross Country Course on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Norton. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

NORTON — On a crisp fall afternoon at Silver Creek MetroPark in Norton, the Hudson cross country teams were finally able to run their first invitational after competing only in dual meets all season.

The rest of Suburban League National Conference can be forgiven for wondering "If Hudson looks this good in its first invitational, how good will they be in the postseason?"

The Hudson boys dominated the National Conference cross country meet Oct. 17, winning with a score of 23 points, well ahead of runner-up Stow-Munroe Falls with 63 points. Wadsworth took third with 99 points, followed by Twinsburg (138), North Royalton (140), Nordonia (145) Brecksville-Broadview Heights (161) and Cuyahoga Falls (182).

The National Conference girls race was a bit closer, but Hudson still pulled out the win with 41 points, as Stow was second with 58 points. Wadsworth was third with 68 points, followed by Brecksville (97), Twinsburg (106), North Royalton (182), Nordonia (194) and Cuyahoga Falls (244).

The secret to success for both Explorers squads was simple: Pack running.

The Hudson boys claimed their fourth straight conference title with a tactical masterpiece. The Explorers ran the first mile-and-a-half in a wedge formation at the front, controlling the pace and not letting anyone pass them.

"We've been trying to run together in practice," said Hudson boys coach Mark McConnell said. "I was proud to see them put work into practice on the course."

When the break did happen in the second mile, Hudson's newest runner led the charge.

After playing soccer at Hudson until his senior year, Elliot Durkee showed he's a quick learner, and his pushed out to about a 20-yard lead and won the individual title in a personal record time of 16:25.

"It feels good," Durkee said. "I love the soccer guys, but I love these guys more."

"We were impressed with Elliot from the moment we got him," McConnell said. "He's bought in like he's been with us for four years."

Durkee was followed by fellow Hudson seniors Jack Root in second (16:32) and Gabe Shala in third (16:36), while senior Kyle Betz finished sixth (16:46).

Surrounded by Explorers, Stow senior Seth Macura was able to stick his nose into the mix and take fourth in 16:37.

"You had to really put up a fight to run with them," Macura said. "I'm so happy. I've been running in the 17s the last two week because my head was in the gutter."

Stow boys coach JK LeSeure was equally happy with his squad's effort.

"We ran really well today," LeSeure said. "Hudson is a great team, but this looked a lot more like what we wanted. They responded well."

LeSeure noted it took bravery to try to run with the Explorers' pack.

"Up front it was Seth, Koby Dunforth and a bunch of blue," LeSeure said.

Dunforth is a Cuyahoga Falls junior, who reached his goal of a top five finish by taking fifth place in 16:42.

"It's tough hitting that wall in front of you. I'm happy with what I did," Dunforth said, noting his attitude towards the postseason is "states or bust."

In the girls National Conference race, Hudson couldn't throw up a wall because a speed duel broke out at the front of the pack.

Wadsworth junior Clare Nicholas — the defending National Conference champion — and Stow freshman Jayla Atkinson pushed to the front and were shoulder-to-shoulder for the first half of the race.

When the duo hit the hill in the second mile, it was Atkinson who pushed ahead. Atkinson continued an undefeated season, as she won the girls title in 19:12.

"I was just listening to my coaches about what to do," Atkinson said.  "They said she was coming up on me, so I just to come in with more speed."

"That's what we were hoping for," said Stow coach Aaron Morris. "We actually wanted Clare to set the pace at bit more, but I guess it wasn't fast enough for Jayla. She's probably the best freshman we've ever had."

Nicholas actually fell to third place in in 19:27, as she was passed by her freshman teammate Kailyn Biecker, who finished second in 19:23.

"That was surprising," said Wadsworth coach John Burton said. "Kailyn is a solid competitor like Clare. [Nicholas] looked a little tired in the second half of the race. She just had an off-day."

Behind the leads, four Hudson seniors came in together.

Sydney Gallagher led the Explorers by taking fourth in 19:28, followed by Emmaline Hannan (19:53) Jordyn Hopgood (19:58) and Brenna Beucler (20:12).

After getting nipped for the team title last year, Gallagher admitted her team wanted the National crow back "pretty badly."

"We all train together in a pack," Gallagher said. "Pushing each other in practice brings out the best in the race.

"[Gallagher] has been great for us since her freshman year, but this year, she's really stepped up as our No. 1 runner," said Hudson girls coach Megan Petraska.

"We know the strength of our team lies in the pack," Petraska added. "It's easier to go hard when you have your teammates with you."