Harrison Central’s Arnold earns a win at Buckeye 8 championship

CONNORVILLE — Nothing was going to stand in the way of the Martins Ferry Purple Riders Wednesday afternoon.

Whether it was the heat, the course or even the remainder of the Buckeye 8 field, coach Chrissy Lewis’ squad was on a mission.

And it was completed at Buckeye Local High School, when both the Ferry boys and girls claimed the Buckeye 8 Athletic League championships despite oppressive heat with temperatures in the low 90s when the races began.

Winning the league title has become sort of the norm for the Purple Rider boys. They’ve now claimed five titles in a row, while the girls snapped Bellaire’s five-year stranglehold on the crown to garner their first title.

“These guys are inspired, driven kids and really enjoy the team aspect (of cross country),” Ferry head coach Chrissy Lewis said. “They watched a group ahead of them see a lot of success and want that same success.”

While Lewis stressed continuing the tradition for the boys, she talked to her girls team about the opportunity to win that initial cross country crown.

“We thought we had a good chance, and this is a big deal for us,” Lewis said. “Our top four girls are really, really solid, and my daughter (Hope) has had a knee injury, so if we can get her where we think she can be for the OVAC, we feel like we have a group that can compete well at the OVAC.”

The Purple Rider teams finished with an identical 35 points, but their margins of victory were slightly different. The boys fought off Harrison Central by just 12, while the girls prevailed by 39 over the Big Reds.

The boys placed four of their five scorers inside the overall top 10 of the meet. Included was the work done by senior standout Justin Geery, who is off to a blazing start this fall.

Geery simply ran his race throughout, and it resulted in a 17:24 clocking and a victory by more than 20 seconds.

“I thought (the race) was going to be bad, honestly,” Geery said because of the heat. “Once you’re running the race, though, it’s not that bad. But, when you’re warming up and stuff, it just feels awful. It’s really a mental game from there.”

Because of the temperature and humidity, Geery was even more content just sitting back in the opening mile or so before starting to assert himself.

“sitting back from the start was big because a lot of people started out too fast,” Geery said. “Once we get to some bigger meets, I know I’ll have to start a little faster. The early morning conditionings and my teammates have been important to my success.”

Sophomores Michael Lyle and Elijah Smith were sixth and seventh, respectively, in times of 18:10 and 18:12. Trent Lewis — son of the head coach — was ninth in 18:14.

Rounding out the scoring for the Riders was freshman Francis Toohey, who posted a 18:35 to finish 12th.

The Huskies had three competitors crack the top 10 overall to earn All-Buckeye 8. Sam McClelland was fourth, freshman Logan Laney fifth and Eric Leech eighth.

St. Clairsville finished third in the team standings, with senior Zac Orzolek garnering All-Buckeye 8 with a 10th-place finish.

Bellaire, which was fourth in the team rankings, was led by senior Isaiah Wilhelm and Jacob Defibaugh, who finished second and third overall, respectively.

The Riders, meanwhile, were led by senior Natalie Forsythe, who has dropped significant time in a year’s span. According to her head coach, she was running in the 25-minute range a season ago. She’s now the Buckeye 8 runnerup, finishing with a 20:33.

Olivia Walton and Chloe Hill placed third and seventh in the overall standings, crossing the line in 21:16 and 21:36. Freshman Hannah Hupp earned all-league by virtue of finishing ninth in 22:10.

Hope Lewis, who continues to battle back from an injury, was 14th overall in 24:50.

The Big Reds were led by junior Katrina Davis, who was 10th overall in 22:39.

St. Clairsville’s Allyson Evonek was eighth to pace the Red Devils.

Harrison Central, which finished fifth in the team scoring, produced the league champion for the second straight season. Talented sophomore Jasmine Arnold ran a 19:59 for the victory.

“I didn’t feel good, but I was just trying to get through it,” Arnold said. “I knew I just had to run through the heat and do it. I was able to run the hill well because I think I went too fast during the first mile. I felt awful, but I got through it. I didn’t care about time today.”

Freshman Destiny Arnold was fourth overall in 21:24.

East Liverpool and Beaver Local each had a runner break into the top 10. Darshay Foster was fifth to lead the Potters, while Hannah Logston was sixth to pace the Beavers.