The St. Thomas Aquinas boys and girls track and field teams both won OHSAA Division III state championships in 2016.
The enormity of the moment was felt when St. Thomas Aquinas track and field head coaches Randy Crawford and Angelo Pederzolli crossed paths.
Crawford’s girls team was wrapping up another Division III team title at the 2016 state meet. With an event or two remaining, he asked Pederzolli one question.
“Where do you guys stand?”
Pederzolli’s response ... “We won.”
Aquinas became just the fourth school to win the boys and girls state team championships in the same year. A second straight title for the girls was expected. The boys won theirs by one point over Columbus Academy.
“I got probably the biggest hug of my life from him,” Crawford recalled after hearing Pederzolli’s news. “There was no better feeling than that.
“The girls knew they were going to win again. For the boys team to do that, it was as great a moment as could be. The whole high school sports thing where kids are competing because it’s fun and they want to instead of being paid, that just made it so much better.”
The boys team followed Pederzolli’s path to a title. Jacob Caniford won the 1,600 meters. He also anchored the winning 3,200 relay that featured Ed Walsh, John Laubacher and Jacob Paul.
“Jacob Caniford had to win the mile and we had to win the 4-by-8,” Pederzolli said. “Those two things had to happen for us to be in the conversation to be a contender. We knew we had the kids to do that.”
Caniford’s 1,600 win came on the heels of a fourth-place finish in the 3,200 in 2015. He and Cory Glines won the boys team’s 1,600 titles during the decade.
“He put the miles in and would do whatever you told him to do and then some,” Pederzolli said. “You saw him as kid with a lot of potential coming up, but thought there’s no way we’re going to have a kid who is in the vicinity of being as good as Cory.
“Jacob was. He was phenomenal his sophomore year and just took off. He was able to get it done.”
For the girls, the Knights already had broken through in 2015 with a historic win — becoming the first Stark County girls team to win a team title.
Aquinas dominated the relays that year, winning three of them — 3,200 featuring Athena Welsh, Kacee Soehnlen, Kalee Soehnlen and Hannah Soehnlen, the 800 of Kacee Soehnlen, Megan Hoffman, Kalee Soehnlen and Rachael Adams, and the 400 of Hoffman, Adams, Aubrey Dempsey and Rosa Forchione. Welsh added a win in the 1,600, while Kalee Soehnlen won the 800.
In 2016, five total event wins again helped put Aquinas in control of the girls meet.
It started with Welsh and the three Soehnlens again winning the 3,200 relay, this time in a Division III state-record 9:05.84. Kacee Soehnlen, Emma Pusateri, Kalee Soehnlen and Adams then won the 800 relay.
Welsh swept the 1,600 and 3,200. Kalee Soehnlen won the open 800 again.
“Everyone remembers Athena and Kalee, but there were a lot of girls who were major contributors,” Crawford said.
Welsh ended her high school career as one of Aquinas’ most decoarated athletes in any sport. She won three state championships in the 1,600, one in the 3,200 and was part of three title-winning 3,200 relays.
The 1,600 and 3,200 titles won by Welsh in 2016 helped her become only the second Stark County runner to sweep the distance events at state.
“Athena was really good at logging all her miles,” Crawford said. “She put in 6,000 miles from the day she started freshman cross country until she graduated.
“Nobody should look at her and say, ‘Oh, you’re lucky and you were born with good genes.’ Anybody who puts in those miles is going to get pretty good.”