Senior Simon Perales is heading to the state cross country meet after finishing 13th Saturday in at regionals.
He is the first Phoenix runner to make it to state competition.
According to Oberlin High School yearbooks dating back to the 1970s, he may the only Oberlin runner — either Phoenix or Indians — to ever make the state competition. Educators, including athletic director Ty Stillman, could not name another in school history.
Head coach David Hathaway started the cross country team in 2012 with a roster of five. Perales was a freshman.
The team had not existed for 25 years, disbanding after the 1986 and 1987 seasons. Prior to that, it had been inactive 11 years.
Perales said it means a lot to go to states this year, especially since Oberlin has not had a cross country team in a long time. He credits Hathaway for building the team and motivating its runners.
The senior competed against 132 other runners at regionals and was the only Phoenix boys runner to compete. Senior Noah Frantz also qualified to run but suffered an injury in the week prior to the race.
Hathaway said Perales has been cautious all season with how much and how fast he runs due to an Achilles’ heel problem that started over the summer.
“I was unsure if I would be able to race at all this year,” Perales said about his injury. He was hopeful that he would be able to run in his final year.
Perales has been focused on finishing the year strong, Hathaway said. “He’s been doing a lot of cross training.”
The fourth year head coach said Perales was finally able to run full speed about a month ago and received a personal best record two weeks prior to regionals with a time of 16:35.
He was ranked 16th in the region after that race.
“I didn’t expect to be in the shape I am now,” Perales said, who had to finish in the top 16 to advance to states and was battling eight runners most of the race to make the cut.
At the mile marker, he was in 25th place with a time at 5:16. “It’s right where I wanted to be,” he said.
After two miles he was in 19th place and could see the top 16 runners so he picked up the pace during a long straight-away to catch the pack.
He was neck-and-neck with Maplewood’s Nate Keeney in the final stretch of the course and sprinted to the finish line to beat Keeney by 40 milliseconds.
Perales finished with a time of 16:48 and his average mile time was 5:24.
“It was a well-executed race for him,” Hathaway said.
Perales competed at regionals as a sophomore and junior but fell short of making it to states. He said he didn’t advamce to the next round the past two years because of his pace and mindset. “I wasn’t mentally tough enough,” he said.
Perales expects the state course to be faster and harder than any other race he has had this year.
He hopes to cross the finish line between 16:10 -16:20 and above 30th place. Perales said his goal at states is to not start off too fast or get caught too far back that he cannot catch up to the front of the pack.
He will race at the 87th Annual Boys State Cross Country Tournament at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.