PICKERINGTON - Four teams and seven individuals arrived at North High School on Saturday with a dream of qualifying for the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross Country Meet.
However, when the dust - or in the case of the Panthers' course, mud - settled, just two teams and four individuals are headed to the inaugural state meet at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron next Saturday.
The St. John Central boys are headed back to the state meet. Head Coach Jeremy Midei's team again rose to the occasion, finishing second in the meet with 112 points.
The Irish trailed only Garaway, which knocked off the Irish last week at the district meet as well.
''We thought runner-up was a possibility, but it was a best-case scenario,'' Midei said. ''We just weren't sure it was in the cards because we could have finished as well as second or not made it, so to finish second is really satisfying.''
The Irish were fueled to their silver trophy by a trio of individual qualifiers.
Senior Ramon Nieves finished third overall, posting a 16:52. Corey Leasure was sixth in a time of 17:13. The 16th overall finisher was St. John's third finisher in senior Matt Thomas, who posted a 17:49.
''This was the guys' best team race of the season,'' Midei said. ''We had so many different guys step up. These guys went out and executed exactly what we talked about before the race maybe better than anytime this season.''
Aaron Ebbert and Brennan Donahue rounded out the scorers for the Irish, finishing 49th and 59th, respectively.
The Irish girls also competed in the regional as a team, but will send only one individual to the state meet. However, it's a highly talented individual qualifier.
Freshman phenom Fallon Doyle showed the track speed she used to dominate the junior-high track circuit in the final 500 meters of the race when she sped past Fredericktown sophomore Emily Roberts, who is the defending state runnerup, for the gold medal.
Doyle crossed the line with a solid time of 19:29 and will be amongst the runners to watch at next weekend's state meet.
Two other individuals qualified in the Division III girls' race.
Shadyside junior Tara Tollett will embark on her first state meet after she finished eighth in 20:19. Martins Ferry's Sunshine Wrenn is heading to the state meet for the second straight season. She took the next-to-last qualifying spot by virtue of her 15th place finish in a time of 20:46.
The afternoon became highly bittersweet for veteran St. C. cross country coach Tony Ciroli. The Red Devil boys again qualified for the state meet, earning the fourth and final spot with 125 points.
However, the girls weren't quite as fortunate. They finished fifth, just two points behind Athens for the final team spot in the state meet.
''I am not disappointed, but I am a little bit upset,'' Ciroli said. ''After the girls' race, I was upset, but I think I am more upset now about the boys getting through and the girls not than I was just after the girls' race ended. We knew coming in that it was going to be close, but we could have handled it better if it was like 100 points or something, but that was us last year, so what comes around goes around.''
The Red Devils girls did salvage an individual qualifier. Junior Amy Castle will compete in her third consecutive state meet after finishing 13th overall in a time of 19:50.
The Red Devils boys, who were the defending regional champions, had two individual qualifiers to fuel the squad to the berth.
Leading the way was senior standout Andy Thornburg who finished second by two hundredths of a second.
Junior Drake Walker continued his strong season by finishing eighth in 17:17.
The balance of the Red Devils who figured in the scoring, include junior Joey Davies (29th), senior Cole Antolak (41st) and Alex Timko (77th).