BY SCOTT HUNT
In Saturday’s cross country semistates at New Haven, all runners representing Grant County’s were successful. But great success is also rewarded differently, like with trips to race against the best runners in the state or gaining experience that may one day lead there.
Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner and his girls and boys cross country teams had a little of both.
Oak Hill’s junior sensation Margo Hornocker is going back to state, for the second year in a row, and is being joined by freshman teammate Mollie Gamble. Hornocker said she was nervous before the semistate race, having barely qualiied for state in last year’s race, finishing 20th. But she shaved over 40 seconds off her time from last season and finished 10th. Ironically, Gamble finished 20th this season “Our thought for Margo was after last year, we wanted to take that next step and to be sure thing,” said Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner about the Hornocker’s semistate goal. “We didn’t want to come here and hope or wish,we wanted her to be a lock (to make it to state). And she ran that way.”
Based on last year’s state final’s times, a 40 second improvement in the state finals would put her in the top-50, she was 123rd as a sophomore. Hornocker said qualifyingfor state helped relieve some of the pressure.
“Relieved,” Hornocker said about how she felt shortly after the semistate race. “I was really nervous all week but it feels good now that I’m done. I can relax this week and know that next week, I will still be competing, but it’s more for fun. It’s like a reward.”
“We want her with some edge (at state), but at the same time I’m happy for her,” Brunner said of Hor nocker. I don’t think people understand how tough it is to repeat. Going one time is tough and beyond rewarding. Now the pressure is you feel like you have to go.”
Brunner’s boys team was almost on the opposite end of the spectrum, having no expectations entering Saturday.
The Golden Eagles were forced to run without three top runners, who were out with injuries. Five freshmen, a sophomore and a senior competed for Oak Hill. The Golden Eagles finished 17th, but the experience was invaluable.
“It was pretty crazy. Warming up you could hear all the crowd and stuff,” said Tahj Johnson, one of Oak Hill’s freshman, who led the Golden Eagles finishing 112th in 17:33. “It gets you excited and nervous at the same time.”
“I started to panic around 3K but I told myself to calm down and finish it,” Johnson continued about his race.
“I finished good and had a good day.”
While Oak Hill’s freshmen gained valuable experience, senior Silas Vermilya put finish line behind him for the final time. Vermilya competed in three semistate races in his career and is excited about what the future may hold for his young teammates.
“It’s been really neat to get this opportunity, I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, how every season has been different, “ said Vermilya, who will start his final high school swim season this week at Oak Hill.
“The first year was a learning year, the second year we had a lot of team success and the third year I had individual success. This year got the unique opportunity to lead a group of young guys, probably one of the best young groups we’ve ever had.
It’s been really neat to see. They’re all really nice kids and I love being around all of them.”