The Press Newspaper
Just three weeks after leading the Eastwood girls’ cross-country team to its third consecutive league title, Hannah Sponaugle and Maddie Jackson headed to the Division II state cross country meet in Columbus.
Sponaugle, a freshman, ran a 19:25 to finish seventh at the regional meet and Jackson, a senior, ran a 19:32 to come in 10th, leading the team to a seventh-place finish.
The week before, Sponaugle and Jackson finished first and second, respectively, in 19:47 and 20:01, leading the Eagles to a district title. Meagan Kaminski (fourth in 20:15), Ashley Madaras (17th in 21:21) and Lexi Clark (27th in 21:59) rounded out the top five with Emily Zielinski and Jenna Selhorst also running.
Joining them in Columbus was junior Tim Hoodlebrink, a first-year runner who decided to take on cross country to prepare him for track season. Hoodlebrink advanced to the state meet by just over one second, beating out Van Wert's Connor Shaffer by a time of 16:46.08 to 16:47.13 to claim 16th place, the final qualifying spot.
Two other area runners, Tyler Sievert of Oak Harbor, who was 14th in 16:36.40, and Tyler Rickman of Lake, who was 11th in 16:33.04, joined Hoodlebrink in Columbus. Lake Seniors Scott Brittenham and Rickman both participated in the regional meet at Hedges-Boyer Park in Tiffin. Both of Lake coach Ken Mysinger’s runners raced in the regional race that past three years.
For Eastwood, getting three to Columbus is another notch for a program already a perennial champion.
“They started early in the summer to prepare, they spent time in the weight room with the summer miles and then the season started and they bought into our program, what we needed to do, and continued to put the miles in, put the speed work in, and everything came together,” Eastwood coach Stephanie Schneider-Sims said.
Schneider-Sims, who coaches both the Eastwood boys and girls teams, said Hoodlebrink had a brilliant finish that saw him pass three runners at the very end of the 5-kilometer race.
“We knew going in that if Tim ran what he was capable of running, he could make it to state,” Schneider-Sims said. “With about 1,000 meters to go we told him he was in 19th place. He passed one person and he passed two guys right before the (finish) line. He went into the shoot so fast that if anybody had been standing there, I'm afraid he would've taken somebody out. It's one of the most amazing finishes I've seen.”
Hoodlebrink said, “At the end, she (Schneider-Sims) was screaming at me. I ran next to (a teammate) during the first two miles, which helped.”
Jackson finished 38th at the state meet last year and will graduate as one of the most decorated runners in school history. She stressed that hours of hard work resulted in her and Sponaugle's performance, adding that she put in a lot more miles during the offseason.
"I run every day in the summer and we're in the weight room a lot,” Jackson said. “The difference between this summer and last summer is that Hannah is running with me. Having Hannah here really helped me. She runs the mile at a little bit of a faster pace and it helped me improve my time.
“I've been the No. 1 runner throughout high school and I've had a lot of drive, thinking 'Don't let her beat you.' Even though Hannah did beat me, I was happy about it. In the back of my mind, I am always trying to compete with her and she's done the same.”
Sponaugle added, “I did way better than I thought I would this year,” adding that she ran through middle school and also increased her mileage this year.
Schneider-Sims says Jackson had expectations of making a return trip to state, which weighed heavily on her.
“When she puts her mind to something, it’s kind of hard to stop her,” Schneider-Sims said. “She put her mind to it, and even though she didn’t have the league meet that she wanted, she knew she had to focus on the next two weeks and she did. I knew going into Saturday (regional) how determined she was.”
Jackson says Schneider-Sims, previous coach Richard Morgan, and other Eastwood coaches always do well in preparing the runners for big meets. For 15 years, Eastwood has consistently placed among the best track and field and cross country programs in Northwest Ohio.
“Besides the workouts, the coaches have a desire to help us get better,” Jackson said. “We'll do speed workouts on certain days of the week and then we do a long run on one of the days and a shorter run with some tempo.”
If nothing else, Jackson was hoping for an impressive finish to her cross country career.
“I placed 38th last year and I would love to do better than that. I would be ecstatic to get top 25 and earn All-Ohio status. That's a goal, I've been running my fastest times this year and I'd be really happy if I could take a second or two off my time."
Schneider-Sims notes that the community has been very supportive of her athletes.
“The reception has been great,” she said. “I've gotten a lot of support and we do have a Facebook cross country page and the reception there has been great.”
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