FIGHT TO THE FINISH — Delone Catholic’s Christian Childs (left) edges Fairfield’s Gabe Schubring at the line to place second in Thursday’s YAIAA race at Fairfield. The Squires nipped the Knights in the boys’ event, 25-31.

To be sure, this is a high school sports season like no other. However, despite the havoc that has been wreaked as a result of Covid-19, the 2020 local cross country season got under way on Thursday, with Delone Catholic visiting Fairfield. Delone won the girls’ race by forfeit, since the Knights could not field a full team, and the Squires edged Fairfield in the boys’ race, 25-31. The runners have decided that the chance to compete is some good medicine.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to all summer, just competing again,” said Fairfield standout Honey Strosnider. “I am so happy we are able to run.”

Strosnider, a junior running cross country for the first time, won the girls’ race in dominating fashion. She had already built a huge lead over Delone’s Julia O’Brien and Knight teammate Morgan Dennison by the 1200 meter mark, and stretched her winning margin to well over a minute by the race’s conclusion. Her time of 20:56 was far ahead of two-time state qualifier O’Brien’s 22:22. Dennison was third in 22:49.

“It hurt, but it was fun,” Strosnider said. “We have a smaller team this year, but we love working together. With the physical pain, you have to be on your mental game the entire race. You can’t let up. I figure I’m going to hurt anyway, so I might as well go hard.”

Going hard seems to be in Strosnider’s DNA. As a freshman, she was one of the top middle distance runners in the Times Area, with an area second-best 5:38 in the 1600. She plans on competing collegiately in track and field, so she figured cross country might just be the ticket to that aspiration. Strosnider is also an outstanding soccer player, and in addition to dominating on the cross country course, she is still on the soccer team at Fairfield. In fact, she had a soccer game on Thursday night, hours after winning her debut race.

O’Brien, for her part, was very happy about the race; happy that her team looks so strong at this point, and happy just to be running.

“I am so excited that we are having a season,” O’Brien said. “We had a lot of workouts this summer without the coaches, and we had a really good attendance rate, which was awesome. We were very organized, so we are hoping for the best season in a while.”

The Squirettes look to have one of the strongest teams they have had in a number of years. O’Brien and fellow senior Becky Hernandez have been bolstered by the presence of freshman Ella Hughes, who placed fourth against Fairfield. It is a strong top three, and there is plenty of backup following them.

One thing that will be very different this season is that all YAIAA races will be dual meets only. Gone this year are the five-way meets that runners have gotten used to, comprised of teams from each of the three divisions. This year, Fairfield and Delone will see only small schools in their competitions.

It makes for very different races.

“There is a lot of separation and a lot more space with just one other team,” O’Brien said. “There’s a lot of self-motivation going on because you don’t always have somebody right there to keep up with and be competitive with.”

The boys’ race, as expected, was a barn-burner. Delone ran a smart, measured team race to pull out the narrow six-point victory. On a tough course, known for its turns and many hills, the two teams battled to the finish, with Fairfield’s Levi Davis winning easily. While teammate Gabe Schubring shot out to a commanding lead at the start, Davis passed him about 800 meters into the race and never looked back. But the team race was happening far behind Davis.

“Even though we had a limited offseason, the kids pushed themselves so hard on their own,” said Delone coach R.C. Zinn. “The captains held a ton of workouts over the summer, and when the season started, we coaches were so impressed. We thought the boys could catch Fairfield off-guard, because we knew what a strong offseason our kids had.”

While Davis was pulling away steadily, his team looked to be in charge of the race. At about the two-mile mark, the Knights were winning 23-30. Davis and Schubring had first and second under control, while the next three Knights were mixed in a duel with Delone’s third through fifth runners.

In the final mile, the Delone runners made two things happen. One, freshman Christian Childs edged out Schubring in the race’s final step, and two, Ethan Darlington and Peter Baugher each passed Fairfield runners who were ahead of them.

Schubring, who is having issues with his knee, ran a gallant race. Pressured by Childs, Delone senior Ryan Murphy, and Darlington throughout the race, he repeatedly held them off. Only when Childs unleashed a wild kick in the final 50 meters did Schubring succumb. It was by just inches.

“Christian had such a great race,” said Zinn, “but it was our four-five-six place runners that had to really step it up today. They ran very well together. I thought that pack was going to pass Gabe at about two and a half miles. Gabe was struggling at that point, but he held them off really well.”

The lone senior in the Squire top five, Murphy, ran a fine race, but his real impact is in his leadership. He leads by example, and has taken a shine to the underclassmen who look to him for inspiration.

“Ryan had a really good offseason, and has really helped some of our younger runners and pushed them so well here at the beginning of the season,” Zinn said. “He has put in so much time and effort, and it is really helping the team. “

For their part, the Knights are not discouraged by the early-season defeat. Though Fairfield is challenged every year to have a large team, the Knights work hard and have become very competitive. Kevin Dorsey has taken over the reins from long-time coach Marcia Roan, and he believes the Knights have the backbone to be a force to be reckoned with.

“We have a great team with dedicated and pretty talented runners,” Dorsey said. “I’d like to have more, but I’m happy with the kids we have. We’re hoping to have Gabe have a strong finish like he did last year, and Levi’s best time is 18:13, but to run 18:52 on this ugly course is really something. He is right where he was at the end of last year.”

Davis has established himself, and is used to being on a strong team. That he is now that team’s leader is something he has embraced.

“Last year, I think we were strong, and this year we just have to keep pushing it,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to run as fast as I can. It’s definitely a different experience to run out there by myself, but with the people cheering, it does push me. I really want to try to make it to states and to break 18 minutes. We just missed states last year as a team.”

Delone Catholic boys 25, Fairfield 31

Individual: 1.Levi Davis (F) 18:52, 2.Christian Childs (DC) 19:29, 3.Gabe Schubring (F) 19:30, 4.Ryan Murphy (DC) 19:41, 5.Aden Davis (DC) 19:44, 6.Ethan Darlington (DC) 20:18, 7.Vincent Malpica (F) 20:27, 8.Peter Baugher (DC) 20:27, 9.Cameron Lyles (F) 20:33, 10.Liam Allen (DC) 20:39, 11.Kyle Davis (F) 20:54.

Delone Catholic girls 15, Fairfield 50 (forfeit)

Individual: 1.Honey Strosnider (F) 20:56, 2.Julia O’Brien (DC) 22:22, 3.Morgan Dennison (F) 22:49, 4.Ella Hughes (DC) 23:20, 5.Becky Hernandez (DC) 23:54, 6.Samantha Smith (DC) 24:28, 7.Annabelle Biggins (DC) 25:30, 8.Jessica Crawford (DC) 27:04, 9.Emma Goddard (DC) 27:13, 10.Zoe Sanchez (DC) 27:17.

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