Patience is a virtue, something McDonald senior Bobby Johnson has learned throughout the 2013 cross country season.
"In our huddle last week at regionals I told the guys one of the fruits of the Spirit from the Bible is patience," McDonald boys coach Chris Rupe said. "This year, we've had to be patient for different reasons. Bobby, in particular, has had to be patient. I had to make sure the timing was right. We haven't gone into any one particular race where he had the green flag to go out there and lay it out on the course."
Don't expect Johnson, who could be the school's first individual state champion since Stuart Henderson claimed that honor in 1989, to sprint off the starting line at Saturday's Division III boys state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Runners like Cincinnati Summit Country Day's Mason Moore, Maplewood's Tristan Dahmen, Gilmour Academy's Alexander Clapacs and Independence's Tyler Polman, among others, will push Johnson in Saturday afternoon's state race.
"It means when he's ready to seize the moment and make his move, we'll see how that matches up against the moves of the other guys from around the state," Rupe said.
Meanwhile, the Division III team competition seems to be a four-team race between Maplewood, Seneca East, McDonald and Summit Country Day - the top four teams in the final poll of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.
"It looks like Seneca East and Maplewood are the two top teams, but any order can happen," Rupe said. "It's a matter who has a good race on that particular day and who pulls it together.
"It's always exciting to get there and be able to race. We, as a team, are excited to step on that starting line and get a chance to race. There's some good teams in there. The good news is we're one of them. It's nice to get out there and see how good we are."
Maplewood coach Dave Deeter said add Garaway, the fifth-ranked team, to the mix. The Pirates won the Pickerington Regional with a dominating 46 points and their top five finished in the top 25 runners. Garaway took third at state last year behind state champion Seneca East and runner-up McDonald.
"Whichever team doesn't give up in the middle of the race is who's going to do the best," Deeter said. "I think it's pretty close amongst everybody there. The fifth guy, especially, is very crucial to Seneca East and us. McDonald's fifth guy has been up a little bit more. You have to see what transpires.
"Everybody has a strength and a weakness, which is different from everybody else. It's so odd. Normally you'll have teams that will have a top four and their fifth is back a little bit. That's Seneca East. We're sort of the same way, not as bad as Seneca East with our fifth. With McDonald, you have a great No. 1 and then they go 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 boom, boom, boom, right around 17 (minutes) flat. It's going to be interesting."
It was supposed to be an interesting Division I boys race Saturday with Boardman's Mark Hadley and Chardon's Nick Elswick going head-to-head starting back at districts and finishing strong at state.
However, Elswick is recovering from tendinitis in his right leg. But, that didn't stop the Ohio State recruit from qualifying for state.
"He doesn't look the same. He's not near 100 percent and he's still a state qualifier, so that should tell you how talented he is," Boardman coach John Phillips said.
That doesn't mean Hadley can trot to a state championship.
Twinsburg's Garrett Crichlow, who has finished behind Hadley at districts and regionals, could be Hadley's top competition at state. There's also Hudson's Kyle Mau, Solon's Kevin Blank, Cincinnati St. Xavier's Michael Hall and Olentangy Liberty's Andrew Johnston giving Hadley a chase for the D-I state title.
"Mark is very confident he can have a similar race to the races he's had this year. It's obviously not going to be easy," Phillips said.
Hadley, who is heading to Furman University next season, is looking to be the first Boardman cross country runner to win state since Laurie Gomez won three straight titles from 1985-87 in Class AAA (now Division I). Hadley has yet to lose a race this season.
"Mark wants to do that, to go wire-to-wire with a 100 percent win percentage is unheard of, especially in this day and age in athletics," Phillips said. "It's certainly a tall order for him, but he's the kind of kid that takes to challenges and rises to the occasion."
The question remains who will be the Division I state champion. Boardman seems to be in the mix, but top-ranked St. Xavier seems to be the odds-on favorite.
"They have a great tradition and deserve the ranking they have, no doubt about that," said Phillips, whose team finished fifth in the poll.
Then, there is Dublin Jerome, which beat Boardman at the Midwest Meet of Champions earlier this year. Hilliard Davidson and Mason, which edged out Boardman in the state preseason tournament at National Trail earlier this year, figure to be part of the mix as well.
"If we run a good race, who knows what could happen," Phillips said. "Stranger things have happened in the past with Louisville (2010) and Dublin Coffman (2011) coming out of nowhere to win state titles. They were kind in the same spot we were, fourth, fifth, sixth in the rankings.
"We like our chances and we like the fact that the first time all season we're not the only one everyone is gunning for so it's kind of a unique position for us, too."
This season, Johnson is in a unique position as well - having a chance to come away with a state championship.
"The difference between Bobby from this year and Bobby from last year was Bobby would gut out races and still run amazing times," Deeter said. "Bobby now is running the same type of times he was last year at this time, but he's actually backing off and relaxed and looking around. He's a whole different athlete at this point. He's at a whole different level right now than he's ever been; and he ran great last year at state meet.
"I think he's just going to fly down at the state meet."