With the dawn of a new cross-country fall season comes lofty expectations for Paige Brunner and the Oak Hill Golden Eagles.
And after a pair of successful races in the Oak Hill Invitational on Saturday, the hype surrounding the Golden Eagles’ cross-country teams is warranted.
The boys placed five in the top six and nine in the top 15, while the girls placed two in the top five and six in the top 15 as the Golden Eagles emerged victorious in both races. The boys finished with a team score of 17, while the girls scored 42.
In the boys race, junior Sol O’Blenis led the pack from the starting gun, finishing in first place overall with a blistering time of 16:50.6.
“It’s a good win for him today,” Brunner said. “That’s not normally his style to go out that hard early, but we knew with the competition that he could do that and get away with it. That’s a good time for our course.”
Sophomore Landon Biegel, one of the Golden Eagles most exciting up-and-comers, placed second with a time of 17:03.2, while highly touted freshman Owen Jackson placed third with a time of 17:25.7.
O’Blenis, Biegel, and Jackson were never threatened, holding their positions throughout the entirety of the race. They, together with senior Jacob Winger, who did not run on Saturday, form a tremendous core of runners that Brunner will rely on throughout the season.
“We’ve got a really good pack there,” Brunner said. “Jacob Winger, who is arguably one of our top two or three guys didn’t run today, [but] we’ve got a really solid top-four right now with Sol, Owen, and Landon, who are all underclassmen.”
Lucas Cates came in fifth (17:57.3), while Trenton Sweet, another freshman, placed sixth (18:16.0).
“They ran relaxed today,” Brunner said. “We knew coming in that it was obviously on our course, and we knew the competition was going to be at a level that we should be able to win comfortably, and I think that helps. There is a lot of potential there.”
In the early stages of the season, the Madison-Grant Argylls, under the direction of TJ Herniak, have made tremendous strides, and those improvements continued to show on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of these kids in the way they’ve worked over the first part of the season”, Herniak said. “We’ve got some goals, and we are working towards them, and I can’t be prouder of these kids than I already am. They are working their tails off.”
As a team, the Argylls’ boys team came in fifth with a score of 115. Gavin Kelich placed 19th (19:38.6), while Chad Harbert finished in 25th (19:54.5).
“We don’t have the elite runners that Oak Hill has, but we’ve got a lot of really good athletes and we’ve got a lot of really good kids that are willing to work hard and do the best that they can do,” Herniak said. “That is translating into their times and into their finishes as a team.”
In the girl’s race, despite missing two of their top runners in Grace Geller and Selah Jackson, the Golden Eagles prevailed. Kinzie Robey finished in fourth (21:36.9), while Kate Hornocker placed fifth (21:44.0).
While it was not Robey’s best race or finish by her standards, Brunner was proud of how she legged it out on what would be considered an off day for the talented senior.
“She knows this, Kinzie did not have the day that we wanted her to have,” Brunner said. “This was her race today, and I just don’t think she felt good and never got into the race and, unfortunately, never gave herself a chance. But she still battled to get fourth and lead us.”
With Geller and Jackson out, several younger Golden Eagles stepped up and carried the mantle in their place. Freshmen Sadie Wisner and Leah Highley placed 10th and 11th, while sophomore Emma Bledsoe came in 12th.
“We’ve got girls filling voids,” Brunner said. “We did lose a lot, and we’ve got some girls banged up right now, but still a really good group.”
For Madison-Grant, first-year runner Emma Ewer continued her strong start to the season, placing 27th in a loaded field with a time of 24:53.4 and becoming more comfortable with each meet.
“As a first-year runner, she has been great,” Herniak said. “She is still learning the cross-country game too. She is still learning how to pace herself and how hard she can go. She is starting to figure it out, so no doubt that once she figures it out, she will continue to move up and post some even better times.”
While Brunner is pleased with his teams’ 2-0 starts, he knows that they have a lot more to accomplish. With a plethora of big-time meets on the horizon, going forward, the Golden Eagles will need to keep the same level of intensity and drive they exhibited on the grounds of Oak Hill High School on Saturday morning.
“These teams have goals of competing for a conference, a sectional, a regional, and getting to semi-state and being at a high level,” Brunner said. “While we are happy with today and the way that the season started, we know that the end game is still a ways away, and we are hoping to get there.”