EP’s Cunningham leads the way as Salem girls follow
EAST PALESTINE — East Palestine senior Alexis Cunningham crossed the finish line for her third straight Columbiana County cross country title Tuesday. It was all Salem after that.
The Salem girls had five of the top nine finishers for a fourth straight team title.
Cunningham had a winning time of 20 minutes, 33.0 seconds on the 3.1-mile course at East Palestine City Park. Salem junior Haley Rozeski was 49 seconds back in second place.
“We wanted to have Haley challenge Alexis, but Alexis put it to her,” Salem coach Rob Motz said. “Haley said, ‘I don’t think she knows who I was.”
“I knew there was the Salem girl behind me,” Cunningham said. “I was determined with this being my last county meet. Representing your school at the county meet is a big thing. I wanted to do well for my school and my team.”
It didn’t take Cunningham long to pull away for good.
“I was trying to win, but she knows this course and is more experienced,” Rozeski said. “I was trying to start out controlled and then catch her. It’s her senior year and she deserved it. She earned it.”
The Quakers scored 23 points to win the their 23rd county title in 27 years.
“We knew East Palestine would be closest to us,” Rozeski said. “It wasn’t as close as last year.”
East Palestine was second with 40 points.
“It’s not a given, so we need to do our best to win,” Rozeski said.
Right behind Rozeski for the Quakers were freshmen Carly Hall and Halle Cochran in third and fourth, respectively, senior Georgia McLachlan seventh, junior Meghan Griffith ninth, freshman Alexis Miller 13th and freshman Tori Kline 17th.
“Southern has a really good freshman and we challenged our freshmen to run with her,” Motz said.
They did better than that.
“That extra mile makes a difference,” Motz said. “They’ve been getting better and better.”
Rozeski loves what her talented freshmen teammates have brought to the Quakers.
“It’s really nice,” Rozeski said. “They always impress me with everything they do. When I was a freshman, I wasn’t as good as they are. I knew if I wanted to succeed, I needed them to push me and make me better.”
¯ Southern Local freshman Hannah Logston, already the school-record holder, was running for a top-five finish before spraining an ankle and falling out halfway through the race. East Palestine emergency medical personnel were quickly on the scene. She will be checked out again today.
¯ Five of the top eight girls finishers are freshmen. Right behind Salem’s Hall and Cochran were East Palestine’s Hope Figley in fifth, United’s Ellie Marhefka sixth and East Palestine’s Faith Figley eighth.
¯ Cunningham has enjoyed having a team around her this season.
“Our goal is to move on to regionals,” she said. “We have a lot of time to take off and a lot of people to pick off. But with three freshmen, you don’t know what to expect. I think we can do it.”
¯ Temperatures reached 90 degrees for Tuesday’s meet.
“It was hotter last Saturday at the Malone Invitational,” Cunningham said. “It was 95 before we started running.”
Starter Don Groubert held the boys prerace meeting at the starting line, but moved the girls into the shade.
“The heat affected us a lot,” Rozeski said. “We knew with how hot it was, no one would PR (personal record). We’ve been hydrating for three days.”
¯ Cunningham is looking forward to the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference Meet next Tuesday at East Palestine City Park.
Because of a limited field (Wellsville and Toronto don’t have cross country teams), the high school girls and boys will run a combined race at 4:30 p.m. The junior high race to follow also will be combined.
“My goal is to break 20 on our course,” Cunningham said. “I’m hoping it (running with the boys) will help.”
¯ The Salem girls have more talent coming. The Salem junior high girls had four of the top five runners — including champion Ella Double — on the way to their seventh county team title in eight years.