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'Capable of big things': Black River eyes top-10 finish at state cross country

Black River has hosted the JB Firestone Cross Country Invitational for years, but on this past Sept. 24 new cross country coach Patrick Brean saw something special in his group of runners.

It was on that chilly morning Brean saw the potential his team had to make a return trip to Columbus for the state meet as the Pirates won the invitational.

“On a hilly course our boys went toe to toe with regional frontrunners Rittman and Open Door,” explained Brean. “In a field of 100 we knew every place was going to count to try and win it. Our boys took the challenge head on and were able to come away with the win.

“I could see at that moment that we had the mentality and racing knowledge to do the same thing in the postseason.”

Challenge given and challenge accepted.

The Pirates finished second at the Boardman Regionals last Saturday to punch their ticket for the chance to compete for a potential state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday at Fortress Obetz in Columbus.

Although no other local team advanced to the state meet, several runners qualified as individuals. Leading that group is New London junior Reese Landis, who was girls runner-up at the Tiffin Regional in 18:22, a full 17 seconds ahead of the third-place qualifier.

New London's Jalen Randleman (13th in 16:35) and Crestview's Cooper Brockway (18th in 16:38) also advanced at the Tiffin Regional.

Northwestern's Kade Tegtmeier (sixth in 16:42) and Mapleton's Isaik Schoch (seventh in 16:54) were boys qualifiers and Loudonville's Tess Shultz (seventh in 19:20) a girls qualifier from the Boardman Regional.

Pirates answer the challenge at Boardman

Maplewood was the regional winner with 80 points, with the Pirates (98) a strong runner-up. 2021 state champion East Canton was third with 102 points and McDonald fourth with 105.

“When I began my first month or so working with the guys, I could see early on that we might have the pieces to have a chance at a return trip to the state meet,” said Brean. “More importantly, we have a group of young men who fully bought into increase summer mileage, our ‘Forget About Me, I Love You’ culture. They were willing to set very high goals for themselves.”

It was shortly after the JB Invite that the team came together.

“Near the beginning of October we saw huge time drops from the boys and we had three runners get into the 16-minute mark," Brean said. "We knew at that point that this group had a chance to be something special and make noise in the postseason.”

Wyatt Royster led the Pirates Pack at Boardman with a strong third-place finish in 16:37, with brother Dillon Royster (fifth in 17:06), Nick Newman (eighth in 17:16), Nicholas Kosteci (10th in 17:35) and Christian Orgel (17th in 18:10) running equally strong races.

Also running at Boardman were Blake Bruno (28th in 19:07) and Noah Orgel (29th in 19:13).

Upon realizing the team was heading to state, euphoria set in.

“It was a very joyful feeling to realize that a goal that we had worked for since May had been accomplished,” Brean said. “We knew we had a chance to win the regional and came very close to doing so as regional runner-ups. I believe that feeling will allow us not just to celebrate going to state, but to improve on our 10th-place finish from last year.”

“It took a little bit of time for it to set in that we were going to state again, and I couldn't believe it," Orgel said. "I knew we had the potential, but to finally see it on paper made a lot of the hurting this year worth it.”

Brean added the team has shown a lot of fire throughout the season, especially last week.

“With running on one of the hardest courses in the state, I thought our level of grit showed that we are capable of big things on Saturday,” he said.

“Coach Brean has done a lot for the team this year, as have our other great coaches,” Orgel said. “Coach Brean has built on what he has brought from the past and monopolized on it, really turning the team in a very positive direction with his constant positive energy, which is seriously non-stop, which has kept us going on more occasions than we realize.”

This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: Royster brothers to lead Black River at state cross country