By Ron Jantz
This one was for the thumb.
The Avon Lake Boy’s Cross Country team won the Southwestern Conference Championship on Saturday at Lorain County Community College. In doing so, the Shoremen won their fifth straight SWC title. Avon Lake now has a championship ring for every finger and one for the thumb too.
Avon Lake’s 31 team points easily beat runner-up Berea/Midpark’s 55.
“I’ve run varsity all four years,” senior James Darkow said, “and we’ve won it all four years but this one was the most special.” It was special for a couple of reasons.
Avon Lake Senior Tim Villari won the race in a time of 16:36.0. He became the sixth Shoreman Cross Country runner in the 47 years of SWC Championships to win the individual title.
“Coming in first was nice,” Villari said, “but seeing all of my teammates come in very shortly after that was even better.”
They came quickly.
On a sun-splashed October morning, the maroon and gold stripes blinded the field. The Shoremen had four runners finish in the top five in the race. No team had accomplished such a feat at the SWC Championship since Bay in 1977. Following Villari were teammates Devin Arora (17:04.7) in second place, Ian Korney (17:05.0) in third place, James Darkow (17:27.6) in fifth place, Riley Jantz (18:03.9) in 20th place, Trent Glasser (18:17.5) in 27th place and Chip Connelly (18:18.6) in 29th.
Avon Lake’s team total of 31 points is the best mark in school history.
“Today, more than ever, it was important because it’s our senior year,” Arora said. “We had to work hard to get it and we certainly didn’t want to let anyone down or let the rest of the team down.”
The Shoremen’s run of five straight SWC championships is matched only by Bay’s run of 11 straight in the 1970s. No other team has won more than three. Did they feel pressure to continue the streak? “I think in every race there are always some nerves,” Korney said. “So, I think there was some pressure to do it again but we trained really hard and it showed today.”
The Championship was also special for the seniors because five years ago they won the SWC Junior High School Title as 8th graders at Learwood. The latest championship completed the bookend on their career. “We’ve been talking about this since eighth-grade year,” said Jantz, “Running and winning it again when we were seniors and we got it done together today. It was awesome.”
The Division I Districts are next for Avon Lake in what the team hopes will be a long fall run.
“There’s not a feeling like it,” said Connelly, “to win with the entire team behind you.” “We really put our hearts out there,” added Glasser. “I am proud of the guys.”