Oct. 26—At first, it was heartbreaking when Jacob Peklay of Wickliffe crossed the line at the Division III Madison District meet. The senior finished 17th in a meet that qualified the top 16 runners to the Boardman Regional.
But that heartbreak was short-lived. Pekley turned back and saw teammates Dominic Borsich and Brenndan Roach cross the finish line not far behind him. He started to do the math and realized that there was a chance for the Blue Devils to advance as a team with all five runners in the top 50.
The wait may have been longer than they had liked. But when it was announced that Wickliffe advanced to regionals, a weight was lifted off of their shoulders.
"I had a good first mile at 5:30 and kind of fell asleep in the second," Peklay said. "I woke up in the third to try and keep as close to the front as I could. I knew that I could be around individual, but that we also had a good chance as a team. I was really excited to see Dom and Brendan be right there, too."
Wickliffe competes in the second race of the day of the Boardman Regional in the D-III race, at 10:45 a.m., Oct. 28.
In the regular season, the Blue Devils competed in meets with deep fields and all divisions combined. The runners knew that coming into the season. They were prepared for the challenge and embraced it as the season continued.
While their team results may not have shown they would compete for regional advancement, the runners knew that they had the ability to be in the battle.
"I feel like in the regular season we only run against D-I and D-II opponents," Borsich said. "So we don't get to see what we actually can do come postseason against D-III teams. Throughout the season, we compete with those bigger teams and it gives us an advantage because we have that advantage of competing in those high-stress environments."
Through the Madison District meet, the chase group behind the leaders featured the Wickliffe runners competing not with just the field but with each other. It's a mindset they have had all season to have in race competition.
That fuel to push each other proved to be a big help for the Blue Devils' team score as Roach kept Borsich in his sights.
That led to a 31st-place finish in 18:44.15, Roach's personal record by over a minute.
"I had gotten PRs at a lot of the meets this year and that momentum kept me going," Roach said. "It all came to a head at districts where I was able to get that big gap of improvement. At the beginning of the race, my goal was to pass Evan (Everett). And when I got passed him I saw Dom right there. I knew I needed to start working towards Dom and that led to a really good time for me."
The Blue Devils have been working alongside competitive runners in meets and practices for several years. Those include Brady Pugh and Tori Stiles, who are running at the collegiate level, as well as Markalla Tumbry, who advanced to the state meet a season ago.
Being able to consistently compete against strong runners has helped the Wickliffe boys' continued improvement. They are motivated by seeing their teammates have the ability to compete and find success against strong fields.
"Knowing that there are people that have been and are on this team that have made it to this part of the postseason gave me hope that I could be there, too," Peklay said. "I like to see myself have those improvements and working with runners like that consistently is a big confidence boost not just for me but for all of us."