“They’re not allowed to say this word, but I told them, ‘We’re going to W-A-L-K into the stadium tomorrow with a quiet confidence. If you do what you’ve done all year, we’re going to win it. W-A-L-K and J-O-G are cuss words. We’re not those W-A-L-K’ers or J-O-G’ers. We’re runners, and some of us will learn how to be racers.’”
The message Medina cross country coach Milt Place delivered to Donny Roys, Sam Maynard, Jeremy Arthur, Hunter Heaton, Lucas Walters, Ryan Fallow and Kent Rankin on the eve of the 2007 Division I state meet was unnecessary in hindsight. The Bees didn’t believe they were simply racers. They were warriors and believed only an act of God could stop them.
Medina was one week removed from crushing season-long rival and defending state runner-up Toledo St. John’s Jesuit at the Tiffin Regional. The Bees already were thinking about nationals and left nothing to chance, smoking the field with four All-Ohioans at Scioto Downs to win the state championship by a whopping 51 points.
From its first state meet appearance in 1978 through 2004, Medina was a respected program that could never get over the hump. The Bees contended for Southwestern and Pioneer conference championships but always fell well short at state, never finishing higher than 12th.
Since the fall of 2007, they have since made nine state appearances with an average finish of seventh, highlighted by a pack strategy during a surprise runner-up performance in 2010.
Good is no longer good enough, because Medina will do whatever is necessary to contend for championships. Program interest remains extremely high, and a pack of shirtless teenagers running around the city during the dog days of summer has become as common as festivals on The Square.
That is the legacy of the tight-knit 2007 squad, which will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during June 13 ceremonies at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth.
“I talk about Sir Isaac Newton, who said, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants,’” Place said. “These guys before us are giants, and the guys on the team this year can be giants for people in the future.”
The seeds of golden glory were planted when freshmen Roys and Fallow and sophomores Maynard and Arthur were in the 2005 lineup for an 11th-place finish, then a modest school record. Heaton and Walters joined the ranks in 2006, and Medina served notice it was on the rise by earning a surprise state berth on a muddy day at regionals before stunning again with a fourth-place finish at Scioto Downs.
The Bees returned six starters for the 2007 season. The goal was undisputed and obvious: Man up, train like madmen, win the whole darn thing and qualify for nationals.
Place picked the brains of elite coaching friends, resulting in a college-level training program that emphasized distance over speed as well as increasing VO2, the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. At least once a week, the team trained by running 70 to 90 minutes at a heart rate of 150.
By this time, Maynard, Arthur and Mike DeFelice, who didn’t make the state lineup but was an instrumental leader and recruited Jake Boyert for depth, had bought in completely. Heaton, a natural raw talent like Roys, struggled to get out of bed during the summer, but Maynard and Arthur showed up to drag him out. Heaton even hid under his bed once to no avail.
To this day, the 2007 team members proudly point to how close they were.
Roys was a reserved, team-first competitor who set the standard for everyone to chase. Maynard and Arthur were the emotional leaders and Heaton was the goofy, extremely likeable sophomore with a ton of talent. Testicular cancer survivor Walters was so ornery — “If there was a competitor that needed to be on “America Ninja Warriors,” that would be him,” Arthur quipped — that Place for years afterward would find random items Walters had stuffed above the locker room ceiling tiles as pranks. First-year starter Rankin had a sly sense of humor and Fallow was quiet and dependable.
“I wouldn’t even call it a team, because the first thing I think of is it’s more of a brotherhood,” Maynard said. “Some of them I haven’t talked to in a while, but growing up they were as close as you could possibly be to family without being blood related. That bond everybody had together, we held each other accountable. We were really competitive internally. Everybody pushed each other every workout and every run.”
That extended to Frisbee, football-throwing sessions and mountain biking before or even after practice. There also were runs to Buehler’s on Fridays to gouge on the free food samples — usually before team dinners at Olive Garden — though Place put the kibosh on that eventually.
The Bees already had a burning desire to be great. They also had someone to shoot for: St. John’s.
The Titans featured Notre Dame recruit Joe Miller, one of the few runners in Ohio who could hang with Roys. Medina realized it belonged when it placed second to St. John’s at the season-opening Galion Northmor Invitational, mainly because the Titans traditionally peaked early in the year and held pace, while Place’s training program was designed to peak at state.
The buildup revolved around training hard and catching St. John’s. The Bees scored the minimum 15 points at the Medina County Meet and endured a rain delay 1,000 meters into the Tiffin Carnival yet still won handily with all seven runners recording personal bests.
“One thing we were real proud of was our pack time and pack average,” Arthur said. “We had pack times and pack averages that at some schools, it would be their school record. If Donny is running 15:20s and Sam and I are 15:37s, we had almost an entire pack until 16:20. That’s really impressive.”
At the Galion Invitational, Medina again placed second to St. John’s but closed the gap as Roys broke the school record. That set up a key highlight of the season as the Bees prepared to travel to the McDonald’s Maymont Festival in Richmond, Va.
Event organizers invited Medina based on its 2006 fourth-place state finish and wanted to showcase Roys, but Place was concerned the Bees weren’t going to belong against the top teams from the Southeast. He was reassured Medina would be in the top five, but, after Roys and Heaton endured their first flights, the Bees surprised even themselves by winning the 21-team event with 134 points.
Notably, the Bees clipped Oaktown (Va.), the No. 6 team in the country.
They were now ready for St. John’s.
“We never saw the course (beforehand),” Place said. “We stood atop a hill and watched a previous race, then ran the race and won it. They knew then they could do about anything. We knew something was special.”
Easy victories at the Medina Festival and Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division Meet followed, and the Bees came within three points of a perfect score to beat St. Ignatius at the Lorain County Community College District. Revenge time at the Tiffin Regional had arrived.
It had taken veterans Roys, Arthur, Maynard and Fallow years to reach this point in their mental development. They were no longer runners. They were racers.
“We both realized how much of the race was mental and how things in the race could mentally affect your opponents, so we starting playing that in our favor,” Arthur said. “It almost made racing a chess match rather than how much guts you’ve got or how tough you are. When we made it a game, that takes the pain and edge off of what you’re feeling, because you’re inflicting pain on the guy next to you.”
The Titans felt the pain on Oct. 27. Roys did his thing, pulling away from Miller to win by 12 seconds in 15:21.06. Arthur (4th, 15:37.5), Maynard (8th, 15:49.69) and Heaton (11th, 15:55.19) stuck to their strategy of letting their St. John’s rivals lead for the first 1,000 meters before changing gears, while Walters (24th, 16:24.72), Fallow (35th, 16:40.32) and Rankin (41st, 16:42.77) also finished high in the 121-runner field.
The previous meetings were 11- and nine-point Titans victories. This time Medina won 44-74, a stunning turnaround from which St. John’s never recovered.
“I remember at one point turning around a mile into the race right before this big hill we went up, and I was sitting top five at the time but not by much,” Roys said. “I saw (Arthur and Maynard) on my shoulders and thought, ‘OK, this is not normal, but it’s good.’ I then saw all of our guys in the top 20 and thought, ‘This is special.”’
The state meet at Scioto Downs wasn’t an awe-inspiring spectacle. Having surpassed St. John’s as the No. 1 team in the state coaches poll, the Bees knew the layout, knew the homestretch crowd would be rowdy and knew they’d win. The memories of that day are not nearly as vivid as outsiders would imagine.
Place reiterated moments before the starting gun that everyone needed to remain calm and stick to the plan. The race itself was pretty standard other than Arthur fighting through incredible pain from a side stitch during the final mile.
“I shouldn’t have eaten that dinner at Applebee’s the night before,” he said with a laugh.
St. John’s runners fell well behind, and Roys held off St. Xavier’s Dan Thaler, a Xavier University recruit, to win by 1.03 seconds in 15:21.83. Maynard (22nd, 16:01.94), Heaton (24th, 16:02.71) and Arthur (25th, 16:03.65) gave Medina an impressive four All-Ohioans, Walters (67th, 16:03.65) capped the scoring and Rankin (103rd, 17:00.13) and Fallow (17:07.11) rounded out the lineup.
Medina compiled 76 points to win the meet by 51 over Centerville, and North Canton Hoover (157), Brecksville (162) and St. John’s (201) weren’t in the same zip code. The Bees were so deep they still would have finished second without Roys.
Medina joined 1999 Brunswick as county boys teams to win a state championship.
“Most people don’t realize that cross country is really a team sport,” Place said. “The vast majority of the time, the team with the best fifth runner wins the state meet. They don’t have to have the state champion. Most times they don’t. Most time they have the best fifth, and we were solid.”
“That was an amazing feeling, especially how fast that team grew,” Arthur said. “In four years, we go from 11th to first. That’s pretty impressive going against big schools that can recruit and stuff like that.”
There was no elaborate celebration, and Place could only recall being disappointed when the team couldn’t find an Olive Garden before arriving home and staring at the championship trophy in his living room. Roys echoed those thoughts, adding the bus ride home didn’t feel abnormal because of how much fun the team had during the season.
There also was more work to do at the Nike Midwest Championships, where the top two teams earned automatic berths to the Nike Team Nationals in Portland, Ore.
A little more than a week later, the Bees traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete at the Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. Arthur (17th, 15:51), Maynard (18th, 15:53) and Roys (20th, 15:54) placed in the top 25 as Medina finished third behind Naperville (Ill.), which was ranked No. 2 in the nation, and Elmhurst (Ill.) but earned an at-large bid.
The season ended Dec. 1 with a 12th-place finish out of 22 teams at nationals. Roys cemented his legacy in 10th (16:30.7), followed by Arthur (36th, 16:58.2), Maynard (70th, 17:19.5), Heaton (17:24.3), Rankin (102nd, 17:43.2), Walters (134th, 18:05.6) and Fallow (142nd, 18:14.3).
“We all wanted to beat each other, but we all wanted to see each other have success,” Maynard said. “It was this awesome ability to push each other within the team.”
Often years need to pass to fully appreciate greatness. What the Bees accomplished in college puts them alone in county history, and their bar of excellence may take decades to surpass.
All seven state runners were multi-year letterwinners. Roys competed in two NCAA D-I National Championships at Ohio State, Arthur won an NAIA crown at Malone, Maynard was a rare full-scholarship cross country/track athlete and roomed with Rankin at D-I UNC Asheville, Walters ran at D-I Elon (N.C.), Fallow competed at Baldwin Wallace and Heaton embarked on a nomad career that took him from junior college national champion in the 4x800-meter relay at Rend Lake College (Ill.) to the University of Oklahoma to a three-time D-II All-American at Ashland.
Place remains Medina’s cross country coach, was inducted into the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012 and will reminisce about the 2007 team when asked. He enjoys recalling the greatness of Roys but truly loves to tell the stories of guys like Maynard and Arthur, who were nowhere near varsity-level runners as freshmen but developed into All-Ohioans on pure guts.
All but Walters, who is stationed in Japan as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, plan on attending the hall of fame banquet. They will include Walters through the phone app FaceTime.
Some have families, some have children and some live out of state, but the bond they developed remains strong. No one can take away what they accomplished.
“Oh, man, when it comes to that team, it was a group of guys who were really close together and brothers in a way,” Roys said. “We all knew exactly how the other person worked, how we could bring them up, how we could do everything.
“It was a bunch of guys who really weren’t meant to be there but really knew how to help the other out and get through a lot of things and work for what we set out as a goal, which was a state title.”