Clean Sweep: Mason becomes second school in OHSAA history to win both cross country state championships in the same year
Sheer and utter domination.
Both the Mason high school boys and girls cross country teams concluded dominant seasons with victories at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship meet in Obetz, Ohio. The boys won their second-consecutive state title and fourth all-time, while the girls won their first title since 2013 and third all-time.
The boys won the 2021 OHSAA state championship with 106 points, a 38-point margin over the runner-up Dublin Coffman. The top two Comet finishers at the state meet, Alex DeRoussel and Aiden Amshoff, graduated after the season. The remaining top runners from the state championship team returned, resulting in high expectations for the team during this preseason.
They opened the season as the number-one ranked team in the Ohio coaches poll and ranked as a top team nationally. The girls finished in eighth-place at last year’s OHSAA championship, and opened this season with a victory at the OHSAA Preseason Invitational in August at the state championship course. They were subsequently ranked first in the Ohio coaches poll. Both team’s regular seasons consisted of many high-profile meets inside and outside the state of Ohio, including the Louisville Trinity Invitational, the Culver Academies Invitational in Indiana, the Nike Valley Twilight Race in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the Mason Invitational. Both teams were victorious in all but one of their meets, Nike Valley, and these wins gave them confidence heading into the postseason.
Both Comet teams cruised through the Greater Miami Conference championship, the southwest district championship, and the regional championship, winning all three races. They both entered the state championship as the top teams in the coaches’ polls, and the boys were considered the favorites to take home the trophy for a second-straight year. The girls, along with Hilliard Davidson, were considered top contenders to win the state championship.
The boys headed into the meet with momentum but missing one key piece. Senior Keith Neuburger, their third finisher at state last season, did not compete after battling injuries throughout the season. What they did not expect was to lose their lead runner Isaac Schachleiter, the GMC Runner of the Year, during the race.
Schachleiter passed out with less than a half-mile remaining. As the runners came across the finish line, it was not immediately apparent that the Comets had won the race like last year. Boys head coach Tom Rapp said that the team’s depth was the key factor to their victory that ended up being tighter than they could have anticipated.
“The state meet is always a crazy environment, but this year was particularly so,” Rapp said. “We knew we lost our number one man during the race, and that made it a real struggle. But the great thing is that this is a team of depth.”
One of the runners that stepped up was junior Max Liao, the Comets’ fifth-finisher at the state meet last season. This year he took a step forward and finished as the team’s second, fourth, and third man during the three most recent races. Schachleiter was in the front pack during the first mile of the race but fell back several spots after being spiked, still maintaining his position as the Comets’ first man. Schachleiter was still leading the Comets with less than a mile to go but did not finish the race after passing out. Liao improved his positioning by nine places after the second mile of the five-kilometer race. He replaced Schachleiter as Mason’s first runner, finishing in 18th place overall and earning All-Ohio honors. Liao said that seeing Schachleiter, his team captain, struggle motivated him to finish the race and lead the victory for his teammate.
“If my captain is falling back I’m gonna pick it up for him because that’s what teammates do,” Liao said. “When one guy falls, the rest of us can pick it up. We go faster. We fight harder.”
Senior James Mroczka and junior Brendan Roe also improved their places at the end of the race to finish 32nd and 48th overall and second and third for their team. Junior Jerry Xu, senior Aidan Markich and senior Braeden Fedders followed shortly after for the Comets. In cross country, the places for each team’s top five runners are added up for the team’s final score. Roe, Xu, and Markich all finished in front of runner-up St. Xavier’s fourth and fifth finishers. These efforts resulted in the Comets scoring 128 points to narrowly defeat St. Xavier by a 14-point margin, despite the fact that St. Xavier’s top two runners outperformed the Comets’ top two runners. Rapp said that he was very proud of the grit displayed by his runners, who elevated their performances in spite of adversity.
“Our guys’ toughness showed greatly in the sense that when they saw that Isaac was struggling,” Rapp said. “A lot of teams would go into the tank and go, ’there goes our first day we’re not going to win.’ But in this case, they saw, ‘there goes our first man, I have to step up and do the job.’ And they did. It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done.”
The race was so close that the results were not made official until nearly ten minutes after the last runners crossed the finish line. This uncertainty over who won the race, alongside their concern over Schachleiter’s condition heightened emotions for the Comets. Liao said that he was overwhelmed by joy and relief when the results became official, and the unusual situation of the win evoked unique emotions compared to last year’s victory.
“It means everything to me,” Liao said. “The team comes first and if the team didn’t win that individual placement would have meant nothing. Knowing that our whole team won, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
The girls’ race also featured very close results as Mason, who scored 75 points, defeated runner-up Hilliard Davidson by a 16-point margin. Freshman Efa Paschka, the Comets’ lead runner all season long, paved the way finishing in sixth-place overall with a time of 18:20. Paschka was in the front pack for almost the entirety of the race, and girls’ head coach Chip Dobson said her impact finishing near the top of the race was pivotal in the team’s victory.
“If you have a front runner it helps a whole lot,” Dobson said. “It’s almost as if you’re only scoring four runners when you have someone in the first couple of places. That helps your cause a lot so it’s great.”
Closely behind Paschka was senior Grace McKay, who surged at the end of the race passing six runners after the second mile. McKay finished with a time of 18:32, good enough for eighth overall in the race. Freshman Bella Teply, junior Carlie Condit, and sophomore Addison Stephens finished the race in a tight pack, placing 31st, 33rd, and 34th to clinch the Comets’ victory. Dobson said the consistency from the five scoring Mason runners allowed them to fend off Hilliard Davidson, who they expected to be their primary competition, for the victory.
“The expectations were to battle,” Dobson said. “We knew it was going to be tight and we had to have some things break right for us for it to happen, and it did.
Mason is now the second school in OHSAA history to sweep both the boys’ and girls’ cross country state championships. The first was Hilliard Davidson 20 years ago in 2002.
The boys joined girls swimming in 2018-19, girls cross country in 2012-13 and girls golf in 2008, 2009, and 2010 as the only sports in Mason athletics history to win consecutive OHSAA state championships. They are the first men’s team to ever repeat as OHSAA champions. Rapp said that this group of runners left a long-lasting impact on the Mason running program.
“We have a legacy of guys on our team,” Rapp said. “They expect to be good. They expect to win. They expect to compete well at this level. We keep preaching that to them and now the next wave coming up, they’ll have those same expectations.”
Photos by Andrew Little