COLUMBIANA - Four years ago the United boys had only two runners at the Columbiana County Cross Country Meet. Now you can't keep the Eagles off the course.
The Eagles had the top three finishers at the Ward Athletic Complex to put them on their way to a third straight county title Tuesday.
"I was more worried about the girls than the boys," United coach Ken Beaumariage said. "We've got a good group of nice runners."
Senior James Kataro became the first United boy since 1997 to win the county meet as the Eagles scored 34 points. East Liverpool was second with 40.
"It depended on how we ran," United senior Jacob Wolni said. "If we ran well, we knew we could be dominant. If we didn't, we could lose.
"I'm proud of my team to complete the three-peat."
Kataro completed the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes, 24 seconds. Right behind him were junior teammates Vincent Zehentbauer and Joe Kataro in second and third, while freshman Seth Zarlinga was seventh.
"We knew it would be close," James Kataro said. "I thought it would come down to the sixth or seventh guy."
It came down to Wolni as the Eagles' fifth runner in 23rd place.
Wolni sprained his left knee at the Suburban League Championship last Tuesday and didn't complete the race at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
He missed the Malone Invitational on Saturday.
"I was angry, but in my heart I knew I had to do what my doctor said," Wolni said. "After coming off a knee injury, I had to step up. I had to gut it out."
Wolni didn't test his knee until a 3-mile workout during practice Monday.
"I honestly didn't even think he was going to run," Beaumariage said. "I kept telling him to be ready for the ITCL Meet on Tuesday. He just disagreed with me wholeheartedly."
United students were evacuated after a fire alarm on Tuesday morning and Beaumariage saw Wolni limping around.
"I knew he was hurting," Beaumariage said.
"I was concerned about him," James Kataro said. "I was afraid of him hurting it again. He got through it."
Wolni, like the rest of the Eagles, has worked his way into the lineup and doesn't want to give it up.
"My first year in cross country when we won (the county meet), I was the proudest man of all even though I wasn't in the top seven (runners)," Wolni said.
The East Liverpool boys have finished in the top two in the team standings the last eight years
"We knew East liverpool would be a challenge today," James Kataro said. "They've been good all year."
"United is strong and ran well," East Liverpool coach Scott Thornberry said. "When somebody runs 1-2-3, there's not much you can do."
The United seniors have done their part in building a new tradition.
"My seventh-grade year, we had no one. In the eighth grade I tried to get my friends to run and they were in the seventh grade," James Kataro said. "I hope the program continue to build.
"It's a lot of fun. I hope a lof of students see that and come out. They say it's a lot of running, but it's really not that bad. You get out of it what you put in it."
With a third straight county title in hand, the Eagles can begin preparing for the stretch run.
"From this moment to the end of the year, it's the most important thing on my mind," Wolni said.
Not many people have had a better week than Leetonia junior Josh Faulkner.
Faulkner kicked a school-record four field goals in Friday's 21-18 overtime loss to state-ranked Wellsville, then he shot at 84 at Salem Hills on Monday to advance to the district golf tournament, and then he placed 13th in the country cross country meet Tuesday.
Thornberry is in his 34th and maybe final season with the Potters.
The East Liverpool boys have won nine county titles during his tenure.
"Most years we have a shot," Thornberry said. "I like it. It reminds me back in the day when we were running duals and tris."
This was his 39th time attending the county meet - which included three years as a participant and two other years watching his brother run.
The last United boy to win the county race was Rusty Johns in 1997.
The Eagles will find out where they stand when they meet state power McDonald in the Inter-Tri County League Meet next Tuesday.
"I want to give them a run for their money," James Kataro said. "I hope to challenge them. They're very tough."