RIO GRANDE, Ohio -Last year, at the Southeast Division 3 District Cross Country Championship, Wheelersburg won the title with Belpre coming in second.
On Saturday, the Golden Eagles managed to reverse the order. Led by a second place individual finish from freshman Cray Sistrunk, the Eagles beat runner-up Wheelersburg for the district championship, 39 to 47.
As a result, Belpre advances to next week's regional meet at Pickerington North High School, where the top four teams qualify for the state meet.
Photo courtesy of Joe Windland
The Belpre Golden Eagles boys cross country team won the district title on Saturday at Rio Grande. Team members are, from left, coach Jim Cunningham, Joel Starner, Kennley Wolfe, Matt Davis, Lee Parker, Cray Sistrunk, Kyle Windland and Matt Lopreste.
In addition to Sistrunk, who finished in 17 minutes, 53 seconds, other Belpre finishers were Kennley Wolfe, sixth in 18:17; Kyle Windland, seventh in 18:22; Matt Davis, ninth in 18:25; Lee Parker 22nd in 19:31; Matt Lopreste 31st in 20:13; and Joel Starner 55th in 22:11.
Coach Jim Cunningham, in his second year at the Belpre helm, realized his team was young, but one that possessed a great deal of potential. That potential developed throughout the season due to the dedication of the runners.
"We started practice on Aug. 6,'' Cunningham said. "The kids all run together.''
Southeast Division 3 District
at Rio Grande University
Boys team scores: Belpre 39 Wheelersburg 47, Lynchburg-Clay 58, Sardinia Eastern 88, Western 101, Ironton 146, Nelsonville-York 178.
Overall winner: Eli Strahler, Waterford 17:35
Belpre boys placers: 2. Cray Sistrunk 17:53; 6. Kennley Wolfe 18:17; 7. Kyle Windland 18:22; 9. Matt Davis 18:25; 22. Lee Parker 19:31; 31. Matt Lopreste 20:!3; 55. Joel Stanrer 22:11
Belpre girl placer: 9. Emma Williams 22:14 (qualifies for regional)
Next meet: Belpre advances to regional meet Saturday at Pickerington North High School
If the youngsters need an inspiration to run, they need look no further than their head coach. He has run every day since 2004 and has logged more than 36,000 miles. The youngsters figure if Cunningham can do it, so can they.
"We're like a family,'' Cunningham said.
While it takes a team effort to win a district championship, it also takes a standout individual like Sistrunk.
"Clay is one of the best up-and-coming runners around,'' Cunningham said. "He runs a lot during the offseason. He attends running camps over the summer. You have to do that to run at his level. Plus, he was born with some talent. He's got good natural ability.''
One ability that is a common trait among the cross country team members is to excel in the classroom.
"They're exceptional students,'' Cunningham said.
As if the boys team winning the district title wasn't enough excitement for one day, Belpre also had another shining moment when senior Emma Williams finished ninth in the girls race in a time of 22 minutes, 14 seconds and qualified for the regional.
"Emma came up to me before the race and said this could be her last race,'' Cunningham said. "But she run fast enough to have at least one more race. We were all excited for her.''