It didn’t come easily, but freshman Madeleine Finton righted the ship in time to become the Columbia girls cross country team’s first qualifier to the state meet since 2005.
The last obstacle she had to overcome, albeit a small one, was the postponement of the Division III state meet from Nov. 3 to Saturday. It was postponed due to heavy rains at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, located in Licking County.
“It was a huge letdown, but I told myself that I can’t let that affect how I feel about the race,” Finton said. “I love running in the rain and the mud, just like the conditions we had at Boardman. That’s just cross country. I was mentally ready to run last weekend, but I can’t let that steal my enthusiasm. Everyone in the community has been so supportive.”
Finton advanced to the state meet by finishing seventh out of 12 individual qualifiers at the Boardman regional Oct. 27 with a time of 20:42.56.
“I just left everything out there,” she said. “I was very nervous earlier in the day. I was asking myself, ‘Am I going to do this?’ My confidence began to come around and my thinking improved. It changed to, ‘Yes, I am going to make it. You have a chance.’ That really helped going to the starting line.”
Finton is the first Columbia girls state qualifier since Karin Coyne, who went to the state meet in 2004 and ’05.
“My coach (Adam Bailey) had a lot of faith in me the whole way through, which really helped with the faith in myself,” Finton said. “He told me just to run my race. He said whatever I did he would be happy with.”
Finton held her position well throughout the race. She got out to a strong start, never wavered and finished strong. Finton was challenged a bit with 600 meters left, but held on true to form.
“The adrenaline definitely started to kick in during the last part,” she said. “When people starting passing, it’s important to think, ‘Now I have to stick with them.’ I knew that I was that much closer to my goal. There was no way that I was going to give up now for all that hard work to go by the wayside.”
The strong finish by Finton at Boardman was key as the final five state qualifiers finished within 14 seconds of her. Finton nearly caught Mogadore junior Hope Murphy (20:42.05) for the second straight week. Murphy edged Finton out for second at the Medina district, 20:18.10 to 20:18.20. Finton was the only freshman girl from the Boardman regional to advance to state as an individual.
Finton was the 2017 Patriot Athletic Conference middle school champ for cross country and a 2018 PAC track champion for the 1,600, 800 and 4x400. As a seventh grader, she was the 2016 PAC runner-up for cross country and 2017 PAC track runner-up for the 1,600.
“I was always looking forward to competing at the high school level when I was in middle school, to face the big competition and see how I could do there,” Finton said. “It’s a whole new level. You don’t want to settle. You can have good days, you can have bad days. You just need to keep pushing yourself.”
Finton’s goal for the state meet?
“To catch up with the faster people from our region that I haven’t beat yet,” she said. “I would also like to see myself in the top 20. If I could get on the podium, that would be amazing.”
Finton trained as a figure skater for seven years, the first two with the Cleveland Edges figure skating team and the last five as a singles competitor.
“I really didn’t have any worries she was going to make it,” Columbia coach Adam Bailey said. “I kind of knew throughout the season where she stood. I knew as long as she ran like she was capable of she was going to get out. She really didn’t herself start to believe it until after districts.”
Finton was actually beating Gilmour Academy senior Katie Engle (fourth, 20:25.88) for awhile at Boardman. Engle finished well ahead of Finton at the Medina district, winning the Medina race in 18:55.30
“She closed the gap on (Lutheran West junior) Kristin (Groppe) at Boardman, too,” Bailey said. “That gave her a lot of confidence. She likes when it’s rainy and muddy. She feels like it gives her an advantage because I make them run in all kinds of weather no matter what it’s like. And she’s such a strong runner. You look at her and you might not think she’s strong, but she is.
“The weather stuff never bothers her. The more gross it is, the more she likes it because she feels like it doesn’t bother her at all. Where it might take other people off their game, she goes out there and runs her heart out.”
It’s very rare for high school freshmen girls from Lorain County to qualify as individuals to the state cross country meet. The most recent to do it was Keystone’s Amanda Winslow, who finished 10th at the 2005 Division II state meet in 19:22 and sixth as a sophomore in 2006 in 18:53 before moving to Georgia to finish her high school career before competing at Florida State.
“I kind of knew the first time she ran as a seventh grader she was a special talent,” Bailey said. “Here she is two years later, she made it (to state) as a freshman. She’s just a good, nice kid. I’m so happy for her.”
Finton didn’t have too many bumps during the season. One was her third-place finish Oct. 11 at the PAC meet where she finished in 20:21.1, well behind Groppe (18:58.2) and Brookside sophomore Alicia Fike (20:10.7).
“She’s so smooth,” Bailey said. “When you look at her you might not think she’s running hard because she’s just so efficient, but she is. She runs incredibly hard.”