Wheeling Park’s Saunders, John Marshall’s Zervos Lay Claim To Cross Country Crowns

Park Boys Secure Team Championship

Photo by Kyle Lutz Wheeling Park’s Ronnie Saunders runs down the final stretch of the Wheeling Park Classic Saturday morning. Saunders won the individual title and also helped the Patriots win the team title.

WHEELING — Wheeling Park’s Ronnie Saunders ran with a purpose at the Wheeling Park Fall Classic on Saturday. For one thing, he wanted to show the state of West Virginia that he was back. And as soon as the gun fired, Saunders left no doubt.

Saunders ran the 5K in a blazing 16:58.69 to claim first at the invitational, winning by 54 seconds and setting a course record.

He also helped his Wheeling Park team win the event as it had six runners in the top 10. The Patriots scored a total of 21 points, winning by 53 as Parkersburg South secured second place.

“I had it in my mindset. I wanted to do this. I wanted to go under 17 (minutes) for the first meet of the year … Show everyone in the state that I’m back and I’m going to be better than ever,î Saunders said.

Last July, Saunders was diagnosed with vasculitis with granulomatosis with polyangiitis. And while Saunders was able to run a couple races last year, it was a long road to recovery.

Just over a year later, things have come full circle for the senior and Saunders looks to be in prime form.

“Ronnie is a machine,î Wheeling Park coach Jacob Galik said. ìAs a coach, you don’t want to say you have favorites, but I root for kids that have been through things and done things, have stuff done to them and have misfortune. And that was Ronnie last year. It couldn’t have gone worse. In his first meet back last year he was was last among our boys and (Saturday) for it to literally come full circle, him to do a 180 and to finish first, I couldn’t be happier for him. I really couldn’t be happier.”

Quintin Thomas clocked in at 17:54.37 for Wheeling Park good enough for third place while teammate CJ Powell was just behind him as he secured fourth (17:59.04). Vincent Diprosperis finished eighth (18:22.81) and Brenden Sands got ninth (18:33.83) to round out the Wheeling Park scoring. Max Warnick was the sixth Patriot to cross the finish line as he rounded out the top 10 and clocked in at 18:34.42.

“I kind of new based on the summer we had and the work we put in, I kind of what to expect,” Galik said. “Ronnie was back, healthy. I knew the work CJ (Powell) put in. I knew how good Quintin (Thomas) is. Nobody knows (Vincent) Diprosperis, he played soccer. As a team, it was always going to come down to our fifth guy. Our fifth guy stepped up huge. I’m super happy for Brenden (Sands), he totally put in the work to be here to earn that. We have a real chance to do something special.

“Real cross country success is team based. We had one guy or two guys in the past. We had one or two girls. We’ve never had the depth we have. It’s not just seven. We go eight, nine, 10 deep and I’m super happy with where we are right now.”

Oak Glen’s Nathan Atkinson secured second place as he turned in a solid 17:52.08 while Mack Allen of John Marshall placed fifth (18:00.20).

For the girls, John Marshall’s Zara Zervos took home the gold as she finished in a time of 20:31.85. She separated herself from the field to win by 29 seconds.

“I’m really excited about this because I’m only a sophomore,” Zervos said. “So winning this as a sophomore is a big deal to me.”

Zervos’ victory comes after a busy week for her as she is also on the Monarchs girls’ soccer team that played Thursday. She noted playing both sports benefits one another.

“With soccer, since it’s a lot more like short sprints, I kind of use that as a speed workout,” Zervos said. “And they work hand-in-hand because cross country gives me the endurance for soccer and soccer gives me the endurance for cross country. They work together and that just shows at my meets and at my games.”

The team standings wer almost as close as they could get for the girls. Parkersburg South, Wheeling Park and St. Marys were all within one point of each other when the first points were counted up. Parkersburg South came away with the win with 61 points while Wheeling Park and St. Marys both finished with 62.

The Patriots of Ohio County edged out the Blue Devils based off a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker is based off of where a team’s sixth runner places as the first five runners account for the team score.

Isabella Romanek gave Wheeling Park second-place honors by coming in 23rd.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years, I’ve never seen a race so close,” Galik said. “It just goes to show you how evenly matched they all were, flip-flop a place here or there. It could have been totally different. But, it’s like I told the girls, that is a coin flip. I couldn’t been prouder of them if they won because they absolutely battled. Everyone is faster than they were a year ago. Super happy with it.”

Isabella DiSaia led the way for the Patriots with a solid third-place finish (21:08.93) while Kerrigan Wagner got eighth (22:35.04).

John Marshall’s Ally Hicks was the final local top 10 runner as she finished fifth in a time of 21:48.07.


∫ During the awards ceremony, Wheeling Park celebrated with members of the 2008 state championship boys’ cross country team for the 10-year anniversary of the event.

∫ Park also celebrated the 20th anniversary of Ricky Moore’s 1998 individual state championship.


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