POLAND — Last November, Halle Sebest and Jackie Grisdale were Poland High School’s cross country competitors at the state meet.
This weekend, the whole gang’s going to Hebron’s National Trail Raceway.
Both the Bulldogs’ girls and boys cross country teams qualified for the Division II meet at last Saturday’s regional meet at Boardman High School. It’s the third time in school history that each team has qualified for state and the first time in the same year.
“I can’t believe it,” said Sebest, a junior and the Northeast 8 Conference Cross Country Player of the Year. “It’s really special. I’m really close with a lot of the boys, so it’s going to be fun.
“They’ll be supporting us and we’ll be supporting them.”
In the regional meet, Poland’s girls team finished fourth in Division II with 126 points. Six teams qualified, with Beaumont setting the pace with 108 points.
Sebest led the Bulldogs by finishing sixth in the race in 19:16.2. Senior Gianna Stanich was 18th (19:49.1) and Grisdale, a junior, was right behind her (19:49.5).
Haley Trolio was 34th (20:35), Ella Harrell was 68th (21:22.6), Ellen Ethridge was 105th (22:11.5) and Emily Denney was 125th (22:58.8).
Other team members are Sydney Norris, Riley Norris and Olivia Zura.
Poland’s boys finished third for the team’s second trip to state in four seasons. The Bulldogs had 128 points, trailing Woodridge (22) and Bay (95).
Senior Geno Gallo , who was a freshman on the 2016 team that went to state, led the Bulldogs by finishing 17th in 16:50.4.
“The pace goes out really fast,” he recalled of the National Trail Raceway course. “Everybody gets excited, aiming to win a state championship.
“So we have to be smart about it and pace ourselves appropriately.”
Sebest agrees that a slow start is troublesome on this course.
“You’ve got to start out fast — everyone is trying to get their best race in because it’s a huge meet,” Sebest said.
At the regional, Gallo was followed by Logan Flament (29th, 17:14.6), Tony Gallo (30th, 17:16.3), Andrew Biggs (34th, 17:25.4), Jet Bailey (40th, 17:29.2), Dante Parente (58th, 17:45.4) and Sam James (136th, 18:59.3).
Also on the boys team are Jack Dwyer and Matt Smith. Monica Ciarniello is the first-year boys coach.
Gallo calls the return to state “awesome. It’s an experience not a lot of people get to have.”
Stanich said its “really cool” to finish her cross country career in the biggest meet.
“The whole team gets to go,” Stanich said. “For my last year, all of us get to be together.”
Setting the pace for the girls will be Sebest. Last fall, she was 22nd at regional and finished about 20 spots off the podium at state. The top 25 are honored with medals.
“Getting up on the podium is my goal,” she said.
Kim Grisdale, Poland’s girls cross country coach for 21 seasons, said Sebest has consistently led each of Poland’s races this season.
Sebest said one reason for her improvement is that she feels stronger, crediting volunteer coach Matt Harrell’s weight-training program.
“We’ve been lifting the whole year and I feel that has made me stronger,” said Sebest who also competes in swimming and track (distance races). “Usually the two-mile, the mile and the 4x800.”
With this fall’s accomplishments, she now has eight varsity letters.
Like Jackie Grisdale (now with 12 varsity letters), Sebest competes in two varsity sports in the fall. (Grisdale competed in golf for the first time, changing from soccer.) Sebest’s soccer team finished as Division II district semifinalist.
“I’d go to soccer practice after school and then I would run on my own,” she said, noting that cross country practice usually conflicted with soccer. “I just have to make time for my other sport.”
Sebest said running helps her cope with stress.
“If I have a hard day, running helps me get over it,” she said.
By taking on so much, some of her supporters have told her “you’re crazy — I don’t know how you are doing it.”
“I guess I just think it’s normal since I’ve done it since my freshman year,” Sebest said. “And my sisters have all done it, too.”
Sebest is inspired by her sister Maggie, a 2018 Poland graduate who competes for Youngstown State University.
“We’re always comparing times, so I guess I’ve just tried to push it harder to beat her times or get closer,” Sebest said.
Her other sister, Carli, is six years older. Her parents are Mike and Heather.
Sebest said her mother has experience coaching track so the sport runs in the family.
Sebest said she began running in earnest “in fifth or sixth grade,” getting practice from chasing her older sisters. Team competition began in seventh grade.
She’s happy that all of her teammates will get to experience state.
“We’ve worked really hard this year,” she said. “I know they are always working hard. We all got stronger and seemed to come together this year. They are like sisters and I hope I’m one, too, but I haven’t been there a lot so it’s kind of hard to [include myself].”
Stanich, who also swims and runs track, said Sebest’s example and pace-setting “definitely helps all us along, pulls us. Her [success] makes us want to do better, get faster because she’s working hard.
“We all want to work hard for each other.”
Sebest said she’s hoping to earn a track scholarship and is interested in majoring in nursing or becoming a dietitian. Her favorite subject is math.
“I like to find an exact answer out,” she said. “I like algebra the best.”
Her favorite teacher is Mark Brungard.
“He talks a lot about nutrition and how our bodies work,” she said of her freshman health teacher. “He provided a good perspective and I valued it.”
Friday, the Bulldogs runners get a sendoff walking through the school halls then travel to Hebron in time to walk the course.
Saturday, the girls will race at 11:45 a.m. and the boys at 2:15 p.m.
Sebest admits she had a little trouble sleeping before last year’s state race.
“Yeah, tossing and turning a little,” she said.
“I know what to expect.”