The Eastwood girls cross country team won their third straight Northern Buckeye Conference title, finishing with a remarkably low 20 points, well ahead of second-place Otsego, who had 63.
Elmwood was third (69), followed by Rossford (106) and Lake (107).
Eastwood freshman Hannah Sponaugle led the way with a first place finish, running a time of 19 minutes, 39 seconds to finish 17 seconds ahead of Woodmore's Courtney Burner. Sponaugle’s teammate Maddie Jackson was third overall in 20:09 (out of 59 runners) and Meagan Kaminski was sixth in 21:12, earning all first team league honors.
The other top five Eagle runners were Ashley Madaras (8th in 21:30) and Lexi Clark (9th in 21:42), both of whom earned second-team league honors.
Three other runners, Emily Zielinski (18th in 23:01), Larissa Barman (19th in 23:07) and McKayla Phillips (20th in 23:12) were named honorable mention for finishing in the top 21.
“First of all, I want to give all the credit to the girls,” said coach Stephanie Schneider-Sims. “It’s their dedication and hard work that makes it work. When I was named the head coach in May, the girls decided that we had to work hard in the summer. They put in more miles and more lifting days this past summer than they have in years.
“One of the goals was to make it to state as a team. You have to take it one step at a time. We took care of the league and now we’re focusing on the next three weeks. We’ve talked about making it to state. Is that going to happen? About 8-9 teams in our region have been ranked in the top-25, so it will be tough, but we’ll see. Northwest Ohio is very competitive for cross country.”
Jackson, who was the individual champion at the conference meet in each of the last two seasons, is one of the most accomplished runners in Eastwood's history. She finished 38th in the Division II state meet last season, running in 19:36.66
She's also a successful track athlete, having qualified for regionals last spring in two events, the 4x100 meter relay (8th) and the 800 (12th).
“Jackson is the complete package,” Schneider-Sims said. “When she goes out for something, she puts her whole heart into it, whether its school, track or cross country. She’s going to do everything she can to make herself and her team better. Her and Hannah have pushed each other and made each other better this season.”
Currently, Sponaugle (19:35) and Jackson (19:36) rank seventh and eighth, respectively, on Eastwood's list of best times. The school record of 18:56, which was set by Bailey Ulinski in 2007, is within Sponaugle's reach, seeing as she has three more years of competition in front of her.
“She’s been running a long time,” Schneider-Sims said. “I coached her in junior high track — I knew that Hannah was going to be good when I saw her in seventh grade. She’s dedicated, she runs year round and does 5Ks in the summer. Did I think that she would be running steady 19:00s all year? Not necessarily. To her credit, she gets to practice every day with Maddie Jackson.”
The Eagles have been dominant for the entire season, finishing first at the Norm Bray Invitational and two NBC Jamboree events. Eastwood also finished second at the Fostoria Invite and the Clay Eagle Invite.
The Eastwood boys’ team, also coached by Schneider-Sims, finished second with 47 points, just five points behind Otsego. Tim Hoodlebrink led the Eagles with a third-place finish (17:04) and Gabe Fredericks (5th in 17:15), Noah Smith (6th in 17:17) and Sam Church (9th in 17:33) all finished in the top 10, good enough to earn first team honors for Hoodlebrink, Fredericks and Smith and second team for Church.
Schneider-Sims, who teaches Geometry and Pre-Calculas at the high school, was an assistant for 15 years before taking over for Richard Morgan, who retired after 16 seasons leading the program.
Schneider-Sims says the reason for both team's success stems from the players' commitment to staying in shape year round and putting in the miles during the summer. This process, which begins in late May or early June, involves the athletes slowly building stamina and increasing their weekly mileage as the summer progresses.