Aug. 26—Muddy and spongy described the course conditions at Riverside for the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 26. Runners crossed the line with their backs caked in mud and more than a few had just one shoe.
But the conditions didn't deter runners from getting their season started with good results. Mentor junior Billy Dennison took matters into his own hands early, taking advantage of the two laps on the track.
He exited the track the first time among the top three and by the second go, he was in second. But the slippery conditions of the wooded area were the undoing of the Cardinals' lead runner.
He was able to hang on for a fifth-place finish and posted a time of 16:30. But the message for Mentor was that places don't matter, rather focusing on their time and handling the sloppy condition.
"I was able to use the track to my advantage and gain some places here and there," Dennison said. "The mud and mess was a challenge, though, there was a lot of slipping. I took a little tumble and once they got ahead of me I knew I just needed to maintain my position."
The Cardinals also had the top area finisher on the girls side in Addison Lyles, as she brought home a 17th-place finish with a 21:02. The pace for the girls' D-I race was set by the duo of Uniontown Lake's Daniela Scheffler and Avon's Kaitlyn Reese, who are among the state favorites.
In the final stretch where the runners went diagonally across the football field, Lyles was in a pack of runners and made up several spots in the final kick.
"Personally, the kick is my favorite and the best part of my skills," Lyles said. "I had to give everything at the end that I have and catch as many people as I can. That way me gaining a few spots can be the difference between a few spots in the team race."
McKenna Bremec of Mayfield was the next highest area finisher in 26th, followed by the Mentor duo of Nora Kraska and Ada Sabo in 28th and 29th respectively and Grace Dubsky of Geneva rounded out the top 30.
In the boys' D-II/D-III race, West Geauga's Matthew Dienes was also among the front runners like Dennison was as they exited the track for the second time. And like the Mentor runner, he lost a few spots in the muddy sections of the course.
The All-Ohioan came away with a fifth-place finish, as he crossed the line at the 17:31 mark. While he could see the top three, Dienes knew he needed to not over-push himself in the bad conditions.
"The conditions were less than ideal," Dienes said. "Every corner had huge mud puddles, thankfully there were spectators saying to go around them. But the first time through I didn't hear them. But that's all part of the race. More challenging at this course this year but still happy with my performance."
Just behind Dienes was his Wolverine teammate, freshman Ian Res, who in his first race took sixth with a 17:44. Dienes has helped Res come into his own through practice and is excited to see him grow on the course.
The girls D-II/D-III race featured a quartet of area runners jockeying for positions in the top 10 with Lake Catholic's Kelly Ward, Perry's Holly Vis, Kirtland's Ainsley Borthwick and Gilmour's Amy Weybrecht.
Weybrecht led the group early but was eventually taken over by the other three, and Ward posted the best finish of the group in sixth with a 20:24. Unlike most of the other runners, she was able to make up some places in the muddier portions of the course.
"It was rough but I said I just need to run fast and swift while not digging deep in the mud," Ward said. "There were some moments where I slipped but just needed to keep going. I needed to remember the pace I wanted to keep and that kept my mind off of the conditions."
Vis held on to ninth (20:29) with Borthwick rounding out the top 10 (20:32). Weybtecht finished 11th (20:35) while a strong kick by Beaumont's Ava Hartman saw her earn 13th (20:39).