ASHLAND — It was the dogfight both Lexington girls coach Michelle Smith and Madison’s Andrew Saris expected — and then some.
Lady Lex dethroned Madison by a scant three points, while the Ashland boys won their fourth straight team title in tightly-contested team battles at Friday’s Ohio Cardinal Conference meet at Ashland University’s Ferguson Field.
Lady Lex finished with 170 points to wrestle the title away from the Rams (167). On the boys side, the Arrows piled up 139 points to Lexington’s 133.
“We knew it was going to be close,” Saris said of the girls title chase. “Lexington is loaded. We spent all week trying to figure out where we could pick up points.”
Sophomores Taylor Huff and Kari Eckenwiler certainly held up their end of the bargain, accounting for 78 points. Huff, the All-American soccer player, was selected the OCC Female Runner of the Year after winning the 100 (12.79), 200 (26.23) and 400 (59.26) and anchoring Madison’s record-setting 4 x 400 relay team (4:05.79).
“We all knew it was going to come down to the last few points,” Huff said. “I feel pressure because you want to win for your team.”
Eckenwiler was selected the combined (field events and running events) OCC Female Athlete of the Year after winning the long jump (16-11) the 100 hurdles (15.87) and the 300 hurdles (48.29) and finishing second to Huff in the 200 (26.81).
“We really needed all the points we could get,” Eckenwiler said. “This gave us a lot of confidence going into the district as well.”
Lady Lex was able to overcome the performances by Huff and Eckenwiler thanks to its superior depth, especially in the distance events. Carina Weaver set a new meet record in the 3,200 (11:22.86), with teammate Lily Weeks finishing third (11:36.34). Joanna Halfhill won both the 800 (2:19.26) and the 1,600 (5:10.78). Tessa Gerhardt finished second in the 800 (2:19.34) while Halle Hamilton was second in the 1,600 (5:18.94).
“It’s all about the double-placers,” Lady Lex coach Michelle Smith said. “One of my goals today was to win all four relays and we won three out of the four relays. That was exciting.
“I knew it was going to be close. I didn’t know it was going to be three-points close.”
The chase for the boys title was every bit as close. Ashland parlayed a one-two finish in the 3,200, the meet’s penultimate event, to leap-frog Lexington for the four-peat.
“The kids performed very well tonight. We had some things that we needed to get done that we were able to get done today,” Ashland coach Dan Fuller said. “It was a great team win. Nobody really stood out individually.”
Ashland’s last three OCC titles were made possible in large part by the now-graduated Hudson McDaniel, who won three events in each of those meets. McDaniel was on hand Friday to see the Arrows pick up points in almost every event.
“It’s a very different make-up,” Fuller said. “They bought into the team mentality. Everybody had a role to play.”
Reid McFrederick and Cohan Robinson delivered the biggest shots for the Arrows, sweeping the 3,200 to account for 18 points. McFrederick won in 9:57.99, while Robinson was second in 10:04.20.
Ashland’s only other wins came in the 4 x 800 relay (8:24.21) and in the pole vault, where brothers Declan and Gavin Rohr finished first and second, respectively, at 14-feet and 13.6.
Ashland’s overall depth spoiled sensational performances by Lexington’s Alex Green and Kyle Johnston. Green won the 100 (11.01) and 200 (22.10) and finished third in the 400 (51.18) and helped the 4 x 400 team to victory in 3:28.13.
Appearing in his final OCC meet, Johnston won the 800 in 1:54.39 (breaking older brother Ryan’s OCC mark), cruised to victory in the mile in 4:19.34 and anchored the winning 4 x 400 team with a personal-record 49 second split.
“As a team we just couldn’t get it done,” Johnston said. “That’s why we come out here.”