To applaud Buckeye Valley junior Zach Kreft’s worst-to-first story wouldn’t exactly be fair.
It would be accurate, though.
After finishing dead last at last year’s OHSAA State Cross Country Championships, the Baron standout won the Division II boys race Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
His first-place time of 15:16.4 was 25 seconds better than the one clocked by Heath senior Taylor Hopkins, who nabbed runner-up honors with an effort of 15:41.5.
“Zach has been thinking about this day since the 2015 state meet,” BV coach Nate Ritz said. “Last year, he competed while sick and struggled to finish … he finished 146th out of 146, more than two minutes behind the 145th-place finisher. That was one of the hardest races I’ve had to be around.”
That’s why the whole worst-to-first thing wouldn’t be fair; it wouldn’t be fair to him. Based on qualifying times, there’s no way Kreft would’ve finished last had he not been sick. What the 146th-place finish did do, though, was make this year’s triumph that much more meaningful.
“It makes today even sweeter,” Ritz said. “Some kids would struggle to come back from an experience like that, but Zach was focused and determined to come back strong.”
Kreft was steady from start to finish. He was fifth after his first mile (4:54.4) and first at the two-mile mark (9:51.4). He finished with an average mile of 4:54.6 — a pace nearly identical to that of his first mile.
Kreft was certainly the headliner, but hardly the entire show as the rest of the Barons ran well to earn Buckeye Valley a 14th-place finish in the final team standings.
BV’s other top contributors included Cameron Hurt (108th in 17:08.7), Bill Daily (132nd in 17:25.1), Nathan Holst (139th in 17:29.7) and Luke Parish (141st in 17:31.7).
“I’m very pleased with how the boys ran today,” Ritz said. “This was our first trip (to states) ever. Zach has had two previous trips here as an individual, but it made for a special experience for him to have his team competing with him. At this meet, sometimes nerves can get the best of you, but our boys came out composed and ran a great race.”
Of the handful of area standouts competing in the Division I races, Orange sophomore Allison Guagenti made the most noise, finishing second in the girls race with a time of 17:35.7. Only Hilliard Davidson senior India Johnson ran a faster race, taking top honors in 17:28.6.
The Pioneers finished 17th as a team, getting strong showings from Zoe Bond (47th in 19:05.2) and Lindsay Ott (67th in 19:19.9) to complement Guagenti’s big day.
Liberty’s girls were also in action, finishing ninth in the state thanks to solid efforts from Gracie Sprankle (14th in 18:12.3), Emma Bower (21st in 18:35.2) and Linnea Kunesh (82nd in 19:34.2).
Olentangy’s Lex Brookshire, competing as an individual, finished 126th in 20:04.7.
In the Division I boys race, Liberty finished 12th and Orange closed 17th.
The Patriots were powered by Logan Boone (65th in 16:16.6), Joseph Johnson III (88th in 16:28.0) and Nick Irelan (102nd in 16:33.5) while the Pioneers were led by first team All-Ohio runner Hunter Moore (8th in 15:20.9), Jackson Schiefelbein (109th in 16:38.3) and Josh Brooks (124th in 16:50.8). Moore led the race with 400 meters to go.
Olentangy’s Anthony Sasso competed as an individual, closing 45th in 16:05.4.
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.