HEBRON, Ohio - Competing at the state tournament in any sport is something most athletes never get to experience.
And then there's Nate Boyer.
The East Liverpool senior is preparing for his third consecutive appearance in the OHSAA Boys State Cross Country Championships which will take place Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio.
East Liverpool's Nate Boyer will compete in the state cross country meet on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Lee Kotfis)
According to East Liverpool coach Scott Thornberry, Boyer is primed to finish his high school career on top.
"He's ready for anything," Thornberry said of his young charge. "If the stars line up right, he could come around the final corner with a chance to win. That's all you can ask. Why not him?
"He's 100 percent ready. He's hitting on all cylinders. Every week I've given him marks to hit in practice and he's hit every one of them."
Boyer, who will be competing in the Division II race which is slated to begin at 11:45 a.m., has had another in what is a long line of standout seasons this year.
In September, he won his second consecutive Columbiana County meet in Salem. Boyer was near the top in every race this year, including a first-place in the Dover Invitational. His dominance continued in the postseason with a district title in Cambridge (16:56) and a second-place finish at last week's regional meet in Boardman where he was just four-hundreths of a second behind the winner, West Branch's Drake Lohnes.
"Any race he's in, the goal is to win," Thornberry said. "He was so close last week."
Boyer is no stranger to the pressure that comes along with running at the state meet.
In his sophomore year, Boyer qualified for the state tournament and finished 98th overall in 17:32. Last season, he moved up 56 spots to finish 42nd in 16:58.
"Last year, wasn't his best time," Thornberry said. "He was coming off a horrible regional meet. His ankle was bothering him some, although he wouldn't ever use it as an excuse. He was competitive and ran well, but it wasn't completely satisfying for him."
This will be the second year the race will be held at the National Trail Raceway after moving from its long-time home at Scioto Downs.
Last year, 11,637 were in attendance to see the runners compete.
"He likes this course and he's pretty familiar with it," Thornberry said. "This will be his third time running it this year. We ran it in August in a preseason invitational. Scioto Downs is a much faster course. We're still getting used to this course, but he's excited to run it again."
As always, competition will be fierce at this level.
The clear favorites are Defiance senior Abel Flores and Springfield Shawnee senior Michael Tymoski.
Flores was the runner-up at last year's race with a time of 15:41 after finishing fifth in 2010.
Tymoski was fifth last year (15:59) and 42nd in 2010.
"I'm looking at the times from regionals, but with the weather last week, it affected things," Thornberry said. "Our region had the slowest times, but some of the others had much faster courses. And they were dry, while we were wet.
"Of the guys coming in with better regional times than Nate, he's already beaten half of them. Every Saturday is a new day and every race Nate enters, I think he has a chance to win."
Of the 41 runners who bested Boyer at last year's state meet, only 22 return for Saturday's race giving the East Liverpool senior a good shot at earning All-Ohio honors (top 20).
While many of the state's top runners will be competing with the rest of their team, Boyer will be one of the 38 individual runners.
"The cream always rises to the top," Thornberry said. "Team tactics are pretty much the same as individual tactics. You want to finish as high as you can. When they turn the corner toward the finish, no one is going to be thinking about where their teammates are."
NOTES: Boyer will be in Lane "E" with Cincinnati Wyoming's Ben Stites, Columbus Centennial's Kevin Adams and Cortland Lakeview's Eric Harris. The only runners from around the area other than West Branch's Lohnes is St. Clairsville's Drake Walker, Carrollton's John Brown and Youngstown Liberty's Jonathon Richmond.