By JAMIE BAKER
LURAY — Amazing.
That’s the best word to describe Sophia Volpe’s performance on the cross country course during the last six weeks.
And on Saturday, she saved her best performance for last.
In just her sixth career cross country race, the senior shattered her St. Wendelin school record to finish fourth in the Division III girls race at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross country championships at National Trail Raceway.
Volpe was the only area girls runner to earn all-Ohio honors. The top 20 finishers get medals and a spot on the awards stand. The top 25 finishers are awarded all-Ohio awards by the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.
Volpe, an all-Sandusky Bay Conference selection for St. Wendelin’s volleyball team, didn’t run her first varsity race until Oct. 1 at the Old Fort Invitational. Six weeks later, she was running against the state’s elite runners.
If she was nervous, she certainly didn’t look the part.
Volpe was eighth after the first mile and sixth two miles into the race. That’s where she was, in sixth place, as the leaders approached the final straightaway to the finish line.
A strong finishing kick allowed her to pass Peebles’ Jenny Seas and state team champion Minster’s lead runner, Emma Watcke, to claim her fourth-place medal in a school record time of 18:32.1.
Volpe shaved a whopping 43 seconds off last week’s third-place regional time. Her performance was the best at state by a St. Wendelin female runner since Kim Johnson’s third-place finish in the Class A-AA girls state meet in 1982.
“I’m just thankful God gave me the gift to run today,” Volpe said. “I’m thankful for this beautiful weather to run in and all of the people that drove 2 hours to support me.”
While Volpe was running to a spot on the awards stand, the area’s top two girls teams, Columbus Grove and Liberty-Benton, were wrapping up successful seasons.
The Division III girls team and individual races were runaways.
Minster easily outscored Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 38-95 for the team championship. Columbus Grove was 10th (284) and Liberty-Benton 18th (383) in the 20-team field.
Lima Central Catholic’s Emily Sreenan, meanwhile, won the individual title with a time of 18:01.
Junior Taylor Ellerbrock led Columbus Grove in 56th place (19:52.8). Senior Leah Myerholtz placed 63rd (19:56.7) as the Bulldogs’ 10th-place finish bettered their 14th-place showing in 2005, their only previous state meet appearance.
Alyssa Ellerbrock (69th, 20:02.3), Macy McCluer (127th, 21:14.5), Sydney Witteborg (131st, 21:22.3), Leanndra Price (133rd, 21:28.7) and Kirsten Malsam (136th, 21:32.8) also ran for the Bulldogs.
Liberty-Benton’s Meghan Bartel capped an outstanding cross country career by competing in her second state meet. Bartel was in position for an all-Ohio award early. She was 27th after the first mile and moved up to 24th at the two-mile mark before struggling in the final mile to finish 38th in 19:27.
Junior Lindsey Bishop was next for Liberty-Benton in 68th place (20:01.8). Freshman Audrey Murphy (132nd, 21:28.6), Sydney Brown (156th, 22:17.3), Tara Gleason (159th, 22:29.8), Zarina Dillon (178th, 23:22.6) and Paige Peplinski (179th, 23:58) also competed for the Eagles.
A pair of Wyandot County sophomores also finished their seasons at National Trail. Carey’s Keely Wentz, an all-Ohio runner last year, battled injuries much of the year but still came away with a 45th-place finish (19:42.4) in the Division III girls race.
Madelyn Shasteen, an Upper Sandusky sophomore making her first state meet appearance, placed 129th (20:58.7) in the Division II girls race.
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