by Matt Deutsch | Correspondent
Despite losing four seniors, including an All-Ohio runner, to graduation, the Hudson boys cross country team is gearing up for another successful season in 2013.
That runner was Vince Moeglin, who qualified for the state meet last year and earned All-Ohio honors with a 14th-place finish.
The other seniors who graduated were Zach Teed, Brandon White and Mark Zubenko.
As a team, the Explorers, who placed fifth at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Pre-Season High School Invitational Aug. 17 at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, finished second in the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division, second at the Division I district meet and sixth at the regional meet.
However, Hudson returns plenty of runners from a year ago, including junior Kyle Mau, who, like Moeglin, qualified for the state meet in 2012. Mau finished 23rd, also earning All-Ohio honors.
"Kyle ran the 1,600 in 4:11.95 in spring track last season, breaking [2003 Hudson graduate] Wes Smith's [school] record," said Hudson second-year head cross country coach Dave Caplin. "He came in sixth at states, was All-Ohio and nationally ranked as one of the top high school sophomore milers in the country."
Other top returning runners for the Explorers include junior Andrew Bitter and sophomore Matthew Hallgarth.
Among Hudson's top newcomers this season are sophomore Gavin Gaynor, a transfer from Sarasota Springs, N.Y., and a member of a nationally ranked cross country team.
"Gavin is expected to join Kyle Mau and be a major contributor," said Caplin.
"As a freshman, he has run mid 4:20s in the 1,600, mid 9:20s in the 3,200 and won the New Balance National 3,200 Freshman Elite race this past summer. These are outstanding times for an upperclassman -- let alone a freshman."
Another top newcomer is freshman Connor Sinko.
"Connor is one of the strongest of our new freshman runners," said Caplin. "He has run in the 4:50s in the 1,600 as a member of the middle school track team. He's seasoned in middle school cross country and has had an excellent summer training period."
With the talent and experience returning, Caplin is optimistic about the upcoming campaign.
"With Kyle and Gavin leading the way, we pack a very strong one-two punch," he said. "They should be vying for top finishes in every race they run this season, and barring injury, they should be in the mix to finish well in the postseason.
"We're also looking to Andrew and Matthew to continue with the progress they made last year and to bring up the middle of our lineup so that we run as a solid pack to score well in invitational meets."
While Hudson is strong at the top, Caplin also wants to ensure that the Explorers are just as strong throughout their entire lineup.
"We have to be sure that the middle to end of our top varsity scoring pack closes the time gap between them and our top runners so that we keep our overall score low," he said.
"In cross country, it's the low score that wins because that means more of your runners came in ahead. You earn the same number of points as the place you finish.
"It's great to have Kyle and Gavin running fast times and while I don't expect our younger runners to be at that level, we look to keep the one-through-five place spread within 30 seconds. That's our biggest challenge coming into this season."
Once again, Hudson's top goal for the campaign is to qualify for the state meet as a team.
"Hudson has sent a team or individual runners to state in 11 of the past 15 years," said Caplin. "But to do that, we have to score in the top four team places in districts and regionals.
"We face very strong competition from schools like Walsh [Jesuit], Twinsburg, Solon and Boardman. It's great to win those postseason meets, but I'll settle for a qualifying spot to get to the next round."
Caplin is looking forward to the competition in the always-tough NOC.
"Twinsburg and Solon have some of the top-ranked distance runners in the state, and some are nationally ranked," he said. "It's never easy, but you welcome such strong competition to keep you on your game. We see these guys in many of our invitational meets leading up to the postseason. It's a friendly rivalry, but still intense."
The Explorers finished second to Mentor in the NOC Valley Division last year.,
Joining the Hudson coaching staff this year is Mark McConnell, a four-year alum of the program and a graduate of Bowling Green State University.
At the Pre-Season meet, the Explorers finished with 188 points.
Mason won the 24-team competition with 68 points and Boardman (89), Massillon Jackson (125) and Sycamore (182).
"It's the same course at the state met, so it was a good opportunity for us," Caplin said. "It was good, quality competition."
Boardman's Mark Hadley placed first out of 223 runners with a time of 15 minutes, 34.95 seconds.
Mau placed second with a time of 16:07.41 and Gaynor captured ninth (16:47.9).
Rounding out the top five for Hudson were Hallgarth (32nd, 17:26.91), freshman Blake Roberts (59th, 18:01.47) and Bitter (94th, 18:39.94).
The Explorers are scheduled to compete at the GlenOak Invitational Aug. 24 in Canton. The race is set to begin at 9:30 a.m.