HEBRON, Ohio — A lasting first impression.
Gallia County had a pair of first-time representatives from two different schools take part in the 2019 OHSAA cross country championships held Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Licking County.
Gallia Academy junior Sarah Watts and River Valley sophomore Lauren Twyman each made their varsity debuts at the state level while competing in the Division II championship race.
Watts — who missed the tail end of the season with an injury — became the first Blue Angel to compete at the state level in eight years, while Twyman is the first Lady Raider to advance to the state meet since the at least 2003.
There were 176 competitors in the D-2 girls event, with 20 teams also vying for the top spot in the final standings.
Lexington came away with the team championship after posting a winning tally of 83 points. Granville was the overall runner-up with 170 points, with Tallmadge (175), Akron SVSM (184) and Oakwood (211) rounding out the top five spots.
Ella Gilson of Hawken came away with top individual honors with a winning time of 17:45.8. Grace Hartman of Oakwood was the overall runner-up with a mark of 17:58.5.
Watts got the best of the local outcome after placing 70th overall with a time of 20:05.1. Twyman was 82nd with a mark of 20:10.3.
Just five seconds separated the pair, but a dozen spots filled up in that small time frame between them — something that Watts quickly noted about her first state cross country experience.
“I learned a lot about running in packs today. I don’t like them. Gotta work on getting around those,” Watts said before her interview started.
The junior — who also competed on the Ohio Valley Conference title-sharing girls soccer team at GAHS this fall — was unable to race in the league meet due to an injury that almost caused her to miss the start of the postseason.
Fortunately, luck was on her side throughout districts and then regionals — and Watts was very humble about having this unexpected dream come to reality.
She also leaves this first state appearance with even more motivation than what she entered the event with.
“Today was a complete blessing. I wasn’t anticipating to make it here a few weeks ago with my injury. It was just a super fun experience to be around so many gifted runners and compete at the highest level for my first time,” Watts said. “I’m leaving here with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. This makes me want to get to state in track and get back here next year, and it’s been about 10 minutes since I finished the race. I’m grateful for the experience because this makes me want to train even harder and keep pushing for more.”
Similarly, Twyman was humble to have reached the pinnacle of cross country races in Ohio.
The sophomore noted that everything about the event was a little nerve-racking at first, but it quickly turned into another race — even though it wasn’t just another race.
In fact, Twyman — like Watts — leaves her first state appearance hungrier for another opportunity to compete in something at this level.
She knows it won’t be easy, but Twyman has already made a rather large leap in two years of varsity cross country — and she still had half of her career left.
“It’s very intimidating coming in, with all the crowds and great competitors. Then, you go … and all the nerves just go away and you just run your race. It’s been an exciting day and I’m very thankful for this experience,” Twyman said. “A year ago, I didn’t even get out of districts … so today meant a lot to me. I also realize that I have some more time to improve and try to get back to this spot the next few years. Nothing is ever given, so there is no guarantee that I’ll make it back here again. But I am going to try my best to get back here.”
The Woodridge boys won the Division II team championship and Caleb Brown of Shelby was the D-2 boys champion with a time of 15:05.0.
The Minster girls won the D-3 team title and Addie Engel of Springfield Catholic Central was the individual champion with a time of 17:47.0.
Summit Country Day won the D-3 boys team title and Derek Amicon of Grandview Heights captured the individual crown with a time of 15:42.5.
Visit ohsaa.org for complete results of the 2019 OHSAA cross country championships held Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.