Nothing was going to stop Olentangy Orange sophomore Saketh Rudraraju at the Division I state boys cross country meet.
Despite losing both of his shoes approximately 400 meters into the race, Rudraraju persevered to not only finish but earn all-state honors by placing 16th in 15 minutes, 39.2 seconds Nov. 6 at Fortress Obetz.
“It felt like we went out pretty fast and my feet were kind of tight and right around (the 400-meter mark) my shoes fell off,” said Rudraraju, who was competing as an individual. “They folded right there and just slipped right off.
“Luckily cross country is on grass, so most of it was fine. But the part that really hurt was with the gravel. That just killed my feet.”
Coach Adam Walters said Rudraraju had a pair of new shoes, which might have had something to do with the footwear malfunction.
“He got new shoes (Nov. 4) because his old ones were ripped at regional (Oct. 30 at Pickerington North),” said Walters, who completed his ninth season. “I don’t think he laced them all the way up. He looked a little more uncomfortable the last 1,000 meters, but I thought it might have been because of the tough competition.
“He had a great season for a sophomore, and he put in the work. He was the top sophomore at the (Division I boys) state meet. We faced some of the top competition all year with four of the top 16 at state coming from our OCC(-Central) Division.
The other three OCC-Central runners in the top 16 were Hilliard Davidson’s Connor Ackley (second, 14:58.1), Dublin Coffman’s Liam O’Shaughnessy (fifth, 15:24.8) and Davidson’s Nick Puhl (sixth, 15:25.8).
Junior Carter Giacomelli also competed as an individual for Orange and finished 85th in 16:29.5.
“Carter is a junior who will have state-meet experience next year,” said Walters, whose team was sixth (164) at regional behind the fifth and final state qualifier, Worthington Kilbourne (144). “‘We were sixth in the region and were so close and yet so far away. That sets us up for a possible huge team success next year.”
•The Liberty girls team finished 20th (526) at state and was led by sophomore Julia Bockenstette (106th, 19:52.9).
“We ended up 20th with five girls that have never run (at state) before and we’ll end up with four girls returning next year,” coach Jamie Gilbert said. “So we’re really happy with it. It’s a different experience to run at the state meet. It’s a different atmosphere and it’s tough.”
The Patriots got to state with a fifth-place finish at regional with all five of their scorers within a minute of each other.
Liberty will lose seniors Sarah Gilbert (132nd at state, 20:11.2), Rachel Ziel (170th, 21:05.3) and Katelyn McDonnell (180th, 21:26.0), but is expected to return Bockenstette, freshman Madeline Pohmer (147th, 20:24.5), junior Avery Kruest (176th, 21:14.9) and freshman Sadie Okonak (181st, 21:30.0).
“Everything we saw all season was that our team has really good depth,” coach Gilbert said. “We think we have a lot to offer in the future.”
Although the boys team saw its season end at the district meet, the Patriots should return six of their top seven runners in juniors Aiden Fuller and Jacob Rygielski and sophomores Adi Akondi, Hani Deen, Shrey Mhaskar and Noah Miller.
“We really had to have a growth mindset this year,” said coach Patrick Brean, whose team must replace its top runner in senior Zach Warrick. “Overall, in team placement and scoring, we didn’t do what we wanted to do. I think this a group that’s hungry and ready for 2022.”
•Grace Heitkamp competed at state for the Berlin girls team. She became the second participant at state for the Bears and the first in Division I.
The freshman finished 35th in 18:56.4. Meghan Boggess finished 45th in 21:10.9 in Division II in the program’s inaugural season in 2018.
“We’re so excited for Grace and very proud of her,” said coach Catherine Ubry, who completed her fourth season. “She’s worked so hard, and she’s our first Division I state qualifier. She’s set a great tone of what it means to set the bar high, and we’re super-excited to see where we go as a team moving forward.”
Heitkamp finished eighth at regional in 20:18.1.
•OCC-Cardinal standings: Boys – Dublin Jerome (24), Olentangy (70), Thomas Worthington (77), Berlin (88), Marysville (93), Hilliard Darby (146); Girls – Jerome (54), Thomas (66), Marysville (67), Berlin (74), Darby (88), Olentangy (162)
•Seniors lost: Boys – Justin Aucreman, Wyatt Bednar, Calvin Davies, Aidan Jeansonne, Ryan Jeansonne and Jadian Oquendo; Girls – Ada Freeman, Savanna Perry and Ella Ziegler
•Key returnees: Boys – Eli Baxter, Cooper Citro, Matthew Cool and Evan Cornell; Girls – Grace Dahlke, Grace Heitkamp, Brenna Mowrey, Bella Phipps and Ava Vaught
•Postseason: Boys – Fourth (127) at district behind champion Jerome (42), 13th (294) at regional behind champion Hilliard Davidson (73); Girls – Third (114) at district behind champion Pickerington North (38), seventh (231) at regional behind champion Dublin Coffman (82)
•OCC-Central standings: Boys – Davidson (23), Coffman (40), Orange (61), Hilliard Bradley (128), Upper Arlington (150), Liberty (157); Girls – Davidson (37), Coffman (48), Orange (83), Liberty (87), Upper Arlington (103), Bradley (168)
•Seniors lost: Boys – Nithil Balaji, Ethan Berry, Jacob Bockenstette, Chase Borden, Daniel Dawit, Rishi Deepak, Isaac Hunter, Ben Rappleye, Movva Suchir, Holden Walters and Zach Warrick; Girls – Maria Bell, Ashley Boettcher, Keira Burke, Erin Daly, Sarah Gilbert, Holly Gluck, Rylie Gossard, Jane Greco, Alaina Harris, Anvitha Irrinki, Natalie Kramer, Katelyn McDonnell, Olivia Miller, Cabrini Nguyen, Dhiya Pereira, Serena-Jenna Rabi, Morgan Ramsey, Tess Rogers, Abby Ryan, Sophia Shear, Callie Stefanko, Tori Turner, Audrie Twining, Ellie VanEngelenhoven, Aerin Wade, Allison Westfall and Rachel Ziel
•Key returnees: Boys – Adi Akondi, Hani Deen, Aiden Fuller, Shrey Mhaskar, Noah Miller and Jacob Rygielski; Girls – Julia Bockenstette, Avery Kruest, Sadie Okonak and Madeline Pohmer
•Postseason: Boys – 14th (343) at district behind champion Davidson (28); Girls – Second (93) at district behind Davidson (44), fifth (178) at regional behind champion Coffman (82), 20th (526) at state behind Perrysburg (101)
•OCC-Central standings: Boys — Davidson (23), Coffman (40), Orange (61), Hilliard Bradley (128), Upper Arlington (150), Liberty (157); Girls — Davidson (37), Coffman (48), Orange (83), Liberty (87), UA (103), Bradley (168)
•Seniors lost: Boys — Daniel Donovan, Zach Fuller, Jack Helmer, Pavan Inaganti, Eric Kiekeben, Bryan King, Sean McHenry, Ben Naber and Will Stringer; Girls — Bernadette Burns, Corinne Hazel, Britta Helmer, Katie Holmes, Bella Homorody, Lauren McCann, Katy Mullins, Nicole Nava, Monica Paredes and Abby Schroff
•Key returnees: Boys — Carter Giacomelli, Saketh Rudraraju, Matthew Schroff and Luke Woolard; Girls — Livi Bayler, Lainey Garling, Sarah Griffioen, Mairin O’Brien and Kayla Sucharski
•Postseason: Boys — Third (67) at district behind champion Jerome (42), sixth (164) at regional behind champion Davidson (73); Girls — Second (76) at district behind Pickerington North (38), sixth (179) at regional behind champion Coffman (82)
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Cross Country: Feet propel Olentangy Orange’s Rudraraju to state-meet feat