- Greg Billing Contributing Writer
As Troy senior Morgan Gigandet sprinted to her first Division I cross country state championship, Centerville senior Kelli Walsh surged through the final mile to help the Centerville Elks claim their record-tying fourth straight team title.
The girls Division I state cross country championships was dominated by the Greater Western Ohio Conference on Saturday. And though the Elks won their fourth team championship in as many seasons it was Walsh who found herself atop the podium at National Trail Raceway near Columbus.
Her teammates insisted the lone senior among the top seven runners stand above them all. She climbed to her spot and – after sharing her place on the podium with sophomore sister Kerri – accepted the trophy and hoisted it high.
“I did not expect to cry this much. It’s been so emotional,” Kelli Walsh said. “This morning I could not believe this was my last year. I just wanted to do well for the team. I wrote ‘Angels’ on my hand because (all my teammates) are my angels. I’m just so thankful for them.”
Centerville freshman Emma Bucher finished 12th overall and junior Grace Kilroy 18th to lead the Elks’ charge.
“I did not expect that at all,” Bucher said of her finish. I’m very happy with it. I’m really happy for the team and I’m proud of where we are right now.”
It was Walsh’s run through the crowd that might have solidified Centerville’s title. Walsh, the team’s No. 5 runner, passed 16 people in the final mile to help give Centerville 122 points. Ursuline Academy was runner-up with 137.
Kerri Walsh (22nd overall), junior Rachel Whitehead (44th), junior Savannah Lowe (84th) and sophomore Dalia Einstein (94th) were also part of Centerville’s team.
“As soon as I crossed the finish line – I personally didn’t have the best day – I just cried because I passed a good amount of people in the last mile and I was praying it was enough. I just wanted it so badly,” Kelli Walsh said.
Centerville tied Cincinnati Colerain (1997-2000) as the only teams to win four straight state titles in the D-I girls meet.
Gigandet, meanwhile, led the D-I race with about 600 meters left on the 5,000-meter course. Solon junior Olivia Howell was closing fast and caught Gigandet with about 400 meters. Howell held the slim lead until Gigandet – not known for having a kick – found one at the perfect time.
As Gigandet battled down the muddy front stretch in front of the grandstand, the crowd let out a booming cheer of approval. Howell, hearing the crowd and sensing Gigandet closing in, slipped slightly in the mud attempting her final kick. Gigandet won in 17 minutes, 30.8 seconds to beat Howell by 2.5 seconds.
“I kind of was like, ‘Do I have to go faster?’ And then she passed me and I was like, ‘Well, I kind of don’t want to get second,’” Gigandet said. “So I thought I better try. I tried and then I passed her.”
Beavercreek sophomore Taylor Ewert finished third overall (17:35.1), Lebanon freshman Faith Duncan finished fifth (17:39.5) and Springboro senior Lindsey Coffin was eighth (18:05.2) to lead a strong showing for the GWOC. Beavercreek finished fifth as a team, Springboro was seventh and Troy 13th.
“I’d be less than honest if I said I it wasn’t nice to think about getting a fourth title,” Centerville coach David Dobson said. “If we could top that it would be even better. I just want to enjoy the time with the kids and help them develop. It’s not about the hardware but the hard work that goes into it.”
Minster’s girls – running in their state-extending 30th state meet – won the D-III title for a second straight season and broke their own D-III state records with lowest point total (34; 38 in 2016) and largest margin of victory (97; 57 in 2016). Sophomore Emma Watcke won the individual state title in 18:38.4 for a 14-second victory.
The Tippecanoe girls, led by junior Katie Taylor’s 16th-place finish, finished third as a team. Alter senior Perri Bockrath (fifth) and Oakwood sophomore Elizabeth Vaughn (10th) also earned podium spots.
In the boys D-I meet, Centerville finished eighth as senior Andrew Craig logged the team’s to finish at 41st overall. Lebanon, making its first state appearance since 1964 when the distance was two miles, finished 16th. Senior Jackson Siddall was 49th.
Versailles senior Joe Spitzer placed fifth in the boys D-II meet. Brookville placed 16th and Eaton 17th in the team standings.
In D-III, Fort Loramie’s boys entered looking to defend its state title but slipped to seventh. Junior Joe Ballas landed the lone podium finish in fifth.