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Local Success: Belpre Invitational sees good shows from area teams

Photos by Josh Hughes Marietta’s Ciara Space pushes on during her third-place run in the girls race in the Belpre XC Invitational Saturday at Civitan Park. Space’s finish paced a second-place effort by the Tigers.

BELPRE –The 3rd annual Belpre Invitational looked different from what cross country runners and spectators are accustomed to, but the races had to go on. West Virginia teams couldn’t attend this Saturday morning affair from Civitan Park, but several local placers from the Buckeye state left their impressions on the event.

Races were divided into two heats for the boys and girls races to prevent overcrowding at the start, and this year’s event gave local fans plenty to cheer.

In the first boys’ heat, Belpre’s Eli Fullerton and Blake Rodgers finished 1-2, and those results held. No one from the second heat caught up to the Golden Eagle pair, as Fullerton (15:46) racked up another win in 2020. Rodgers finished with a time of 16:22 in the strong showing. The momentum boost going into Belpre’s next meet was something Fullerton talked about after his win.

“It was good out there with perfect weather conditions today. Obviously, I had to push myself a lot, but overall, I’m really happy with it,” he said. “It’s definitely a confidence-booster, and we have a really strong team. It just shows how tough we are. We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work this summer, and it’s been paying off.”

The Warren boys (60) edged out Fisher Catholic (65) and Belpre (67) to win as a team, as Brennan Perdue’s eighth-place finish (16:59) and Matthew Rauch’s tenth-place finish (17:04) paced the Warriors in the triumph.

Eli Fullerton

Warren head coach Ryan Weery had expectations for his runners, and those expectations were met on Friday.

“I keep seeing us improve. That’s a big thing for us, just coming into each race with goal times for pacing our mile, and we try to make those times,” he said. “We won’t find out until the end whether we hit them or not. We were looking to get under 18 (minutes), and all of our top five, except one, got under 18. Our fifth-place guy was really close. That’s all we can ask for.”

While Marietta fared better on the girls’ side, the boys finished in fifth (145) with Ezra Minard (18:03, 11th) and Nathan Johnson (18:50, 23rd) leading the way. Federal Hocking (184) finished right behind Marietta, and top performances from Brayden Tabler (18:03, 16th) and Evan McPherson (18:29, 21st) kept the team in the middle of the pack. Fort Frye finished ninth with 219 points, but Phinn Spindler scored a fifth-place finish at 16:53 to help matters for the Cadets. The final local boys team was Waterford (253), and although the team finished last, Chase Schott (19:24) earned his team’s top spot in 31st.

The Athens girls took the top spot, but it was Gallia Academy’s Sarah Watts (19:22) who took home first racing from the second heat. Marietta’s Ciara Space notched a third-place finish from the second heat and was only bested in the heat by Fisher Catholic’s Natalie Boyden (19:28). Space and Boyden enjoyed racing against each other, and they both talked about what it meant on this sunny Friday.

“(Fisher Catholic) never ran here before, so it felt good to get a new course in. It felt really good, and the weather was nice,” Boyden said. “(Ciara and I) ran against each other last weekend, so I knew she was going to be right up there.”

Finn Spindler

Space noted how her team, that finished in the runner-up spot with 86, had improved over time.

“It’s really nice to have a pretty competitive team, this year. We’ve got a lot of freshmen and new girls moving in,” she said. “I’m really glad I’ve been able to race against Natalie the last couple weeks. I’d never raced against her before, but this year is new, it’s a fresh start, and I’m really glad to finish my high school career this way.”

Ava Gebczyk (20:32, 6th) joined Space near the top, and Hannah Lovejoy (21:43, 13th) wasn’t far behind. Caldwell achieved a podium finish at 94, as Sage Speck (20:32, 5th) and Brynn Block (22:01, 16th) ended their days inside the top 20. The Warren girls didn’t duplicate what their male counterparts did, but they still finished fourth with 105 points. Randall Grace (21:04) and Allison Werry (21:14) finished in eighth and tenth, respectively.

Federal Hocking (223) beat Belpre (262) for tenth place, as Rosemary Stephens took seventh in 20:46. Belpre had two girls finish inside the top 50 with Maddie Sprigg (24:48, 48th) and Kelly Erb rounding out the top 50 at 25:11.

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

Blake Rodgers

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