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Green cross country teams peaking as postseason approaches

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

GREEN  Championship season is quickly approaching for cross country teams and the Green Bulldogs are trending in the right direction at the right time.

With the Federal League championships and sectional meet coming up in a matter of weeks, the Bulldogs are feeling good about their progress, according to veteran head coach Jacob Saylor.

"We've seen a lot of improvement ... without track it's taken longer to get into the groove," Saylor said, alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the spring sports season earlier this year. "Normally, it would take a couple of races but this year it took about three or four races for our runners to get into things."

With 24 girls and 34 boys on the varsity roster, the Bulldogs have more than enough runners to fill both their varsity and junior varsity squads.

That depth has proven beneficial for both teams. The girls have been led by senior Olivia Gang, junior Carmen Sims and senior, Leigha Hall, among others.

"Olivia Gang is a senior who's been performing very well. She obviously has the ability to go far in the postseason," Saylor said.

Add in Ellie Dale and Liv Fortner and the girls have a solid top five that has led the pack in the first few weeks of the season.

Youth has largely led the way for the boys, with sophomores Spiro and Theo Papas continuing their strong running after breaking into the lineup as freshman. The twin brothers, along with the rest of the lineup, has benefited from the leadership of seniors Noah Christopher, Aaron Hayn and Skylar Arny.

"Those three seniors are our captains They're great leaders and they're getting up closer to top our top runners," Saylor said.

Sophomore Josh Henry and freshman Edgar San Jose is another underclassman who has stepped up and delivered solid runs this season.

With an early meet at GlenOak against the host Golden Eagles, Jackson, Hoover and Mentor and an invitational meet at Kenston, Green has faced some tough test over the past few weeks.

While the Bulldogs sent their varsity squads to the Kenston meet instead of the preseason Federal League meet, the upcoming postseason league meet promises to be one of the toughest outings of the campaign.

At Kenston, the Papas brothers were 24th and 28th overall, with Theo running a 17:07 and Spiro close behind at 17:14. The team's three senior leaders were next in the finishing order for Green at the meet, while Gang ranked third overall for the girls with a time of 19:14, helping her squad to fifth place as a team.

As coaches across all fall sports at various area schools have noted, the simple act of participating in a sport has been hugely beneficial for Green's cross country runners, Saylor noted.

"The beginning of the season was really weird to be honest ... I've been coaching for 12 years and I haven't seen anything like it, but we've gotten used to it," Saylor said. "They're really talkative this year ... we're on remote learning at Green now, 100 percent remote, so having cross country is a huge thing for them to see friends and be able talk to each other .. the social skills side of it has been huge."

Among the adjustments for Green on the course has been not being able to have team gatherings on the course at meets and following the various health and safety protocols such as the elimination of run-outs prior to the start of races.

Olivia Gang of Green won the girls big school division of the East Canton Cross Country Invitational on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.