Halle Hamilton at state

Lexington senior Halle Hamilton takes the lead at the two-mile mark in Saturday's Div. II state cross country championship race. She finished third overall with a time of 18:25.

OBETZ, Ohio – Halle Hamilton, Lily Weeks and Joanna Halfhill don't know what it's like to lose a state cross country meet.

And they weren't about to find out Saturday.

The Lexington seniors won their fourth straight Division II state title on an unseasonably warm day in Obetz, finishing 14 points ahead of second-place Dayton Oakwood and 22 points ahead of third-place Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

It wasn't the margin of the last two years – they won by 70 points in 2018 and 87 points in 2019 – but in the end, it didn't matter. A state championship, Hamilton said, is a state championship.

"It's been special every year, but this year probably the most," Hamilton said. "Us three girls have been scoring on the four teams and this is our last year, and we got to appreciate that."

While most perennial state qualifiers would benefit from course knowledge, Lexington did not have that luxury on Saturday. The state meet was held at Fortress Obetz for the first time, and Lexington head coach Denise Benson said her team struggled to adjust early.

"Being at a new course, there were a lot of unknowns ..." she said. "We did not have a good start – we got boxed way back, so they wasted a lot of energy needing to move up today. So that cost us some points."

Lexington found itself in fifth place after the first mile. But in the second, its top runners began to make moves. Hamilton surged from sixth to first, taking a slim lead heading into the final mile.

"I was trying to hold my spot," she recalled afterwards. "I could feel them coming for me right behind me."

Oakwood junior Grace Hartman and Hawken senior Ella Gilson stayed on Hamilton's heels until midway through the third mile.

"We got over that hill, and their speed just kills," Hamilton said. "I mean, their leg speed is so fast. They're sub-five milers. So I knew that coming into the race, and I was hoping I could maybe gap them enough within the third mile to get away from that, but they just both got me."

Hartman edged Gilson in a photo finish, crossing the line ten-one-hundredths of a second ahead of her competitor. Hamilton finished 21 seconds later with a time of 18:25. It was her second consecutive third-place finish.

"I mean, I'm happy with it," Hamilton said. "I think I raced pretty close or to the best of my ability today."

While Oakwood saw three finishers in the top 10, Lexington saw a stronger overall performance from its top five. Weeks placed 19th at 19:03, Elyana Weaver finished 42nd at 19:46, Emma Wise placed 51st at 19:59 and Halfhill finished 56th at 20:05.

Oakwood's fourth (79) and fifth (102) runners both finished well behind their Lexington counterparts.

"We were just feeling blessed to be here," Benson said. "I think, under the circumstances and the pressure of going for a four-peat, I think they had a solid performance today."

Among other area finishers, Ontario's Ellie Maurer and Ariah Reuer finished 52nd and 85th, respectively. Shelby's Kayla Gonzales finished 66th, while Galion placed 16th out of 20 teams.

In the Division II boys race, Shelby finished 13th out of 19 teams. Lexington's Chayse Whitesel placed 70th individually with a time of 17:08. Plymouth's Levi Robinson finished 38th in the Division III race with a time of 16:42, while Colonel Crawford placed ninth in the Division III girls race.

Ashland County saw strong performances from several runners, including Loudonville junior Catlyn Kauffman, who placed 49th in Division III with a time of 20:08. Crestview's Morgan Welch placed 73rd in the same race with a time of 20:26, while Tommy O'Neill finished 100th in the Division III boys race with a time of 17:25. In the boys Division I race, Ashland's Joshua Hawley placed 56th with a time of 16:27.

As for the Lexington girls, Benson admitted Saturday felt "a little too close for comfort." They're used to winning by larger margins. But at the end of the day, she seemed thankful for the team's three seniors – Hamilton, Weeks and Halfhill – and all they had accomplished.

Four state championships in four years is rare, if not unprecedented, at the Division II level. But they had done it.

"They've just been a pure joy to coach all four years, all three girls," Benson said, holding back tears. "I mean, there are just times where you're like, with this athlete or that athlete, you just have to try to fight through some ups and downs.

"These girls have just been so consistent and solid and passionate. It's just been a perfect four years with them."

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