Cross Country: One last run for DeSantis family at state cross country

SPRINGFIELD — The DeSantis family is making one last trip to Columbus for the Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross country championships.

Shawnee High School senior Audrey DeSantis and her father, longtime Braves coach Brian DeSantis, will make their last appearance at today’s state meet at Fortress Obetz in Columbus.

“I’m excited,” said Audrey DeSantis, who qualified for the state meet for the fourth straight season. “It’ll be a little sad, but I’m not trying to think about how it’s the last race.”

The emotions haven’t quite set in for Brian DeSantis, who will also coach on the Braves track and field team in the spring. During his tenure, the Braves have qualified 16 times as a team and have sent individuals nearly every season. He’s gone eight times with his daughters, Miah and Audrey.

“It’s always fun being a father to take your daughter four times,” Brian DeSantis said. “I’m just trying to keep it out of my mind until the meet’s done. Afterwards, I know it’s going to be sad.”

The beginning of an era

Brian DeSantis, a 1989 Shawnee grad, qualified for the state cross country meet as a senior in 1988. He began coaching at Ferguson Middle School in Beavercreek in 1991 and began coaching the Shawnee middle school program in 1995. Six years later, he became the Braves varsity coach. He left the program in 2008 and 2009 to spend time with his family before returning to the program in 2010.

During his tenure, the boys program advanced to the state meet 10 times, winning a state championship in 2011, while the girls team advanced six times.

“That’s the most rewarding feeling as a coach to get a team to that level,” Brian DeSantis said.

In 2003, he challenged his boys team to work hard in the summer to help achieve their goals, he said. If they didn’t want to work, he would help them find a new coach and he would spend more time with his young family.

The team agreed to his offseason workout plan and two seasons later, the Braves finished in the top-10 at the state meet.

“I feel like those kids are why our program became what it became,” Brian DeSantis said. “That’s what kind of catapulted this whole program.”

In 2011, the Braves boys team won a state championship and the program has made countless appearances both as a team and individuals ever since, including both of his daughters.

The key has been numerous great athletes, coaches, parents and a supportive administration, Brian DeSantis said.

“We find a way to get them to be as passionate about it as what the coaching staff is,” he said. “In many cases, we get great athletes. You have to have talent to build that success. We’re not that good. We have to have talent to develop them and fine tune their craft. We’ve had the right coaching staff over the years to be able to do that.”

The end of an era

Near the end of his two-year layoff in 2009, DeSantis asked his young daughters if they wanted him to resume coaching cross country at Shawnee. They both told him, “We want to run for you someday,” he said.

“I remember them saying that,” Brian DeSantis said. “It’s been a great run ever since.”

Audrey DeSantis will make the final appearance for the family at today’s state meet where she’ll be joined by Shawnee senior teammate Jordyn Dillavou, also a four-time qualifier for the boys team.

She finished 21st as a freshman, ninth as a sophomore and 17th last season. She hopes to finish in the top-5, but knows it will take a smart race, she said.

“I think it’s a realistic goal,” Audrey DeSantis said.

While Brian DeSantis has had many talented runners during this time at Shawnee, none has the same passion as his daughter Audrey, he said.

“She by far has the passion to do everything right,” Brian DeSantis said. “Her sleep routine, eating routine. She’ll come out here and put in crazy good work. Her attitude is positive all the time and infectious. ... She does all the hard work right and all the ancillary work we need to keep her healthy and strong.”

It wasn’t always that way, Audrey said, despite competing in club competitions in elementary school.

“I really didn’t like running until I got into middle school,” Audrey DeSantis said. “Watching him and Miah talk about it, I just felt like I wanted to be a part of it. It stuck, I guess.”

In eighth grade, she quit basketball to focus on winter training. Four years later, she’s qualified for four straight state meets and will continue her career in college. She’s picking between Ohio State, Kentucky and Michigan State. Brian and his wife, Tracy, plan to follow her to meets around the country.

“I’ll definitely miss it,” DeSantis said. “I love these kids. Every year, I fall in love with my teams. I’m going to miss it a ton.”

He’ll also miss coaching his daughters.

“My favorite moments by far — and nothing else comes close — have been coaching my daughters,” Brian DeSantis said. “We’ve had amazing, fun times. We’ve never had any issues with our relationships. By far, taking my kids to the state meet and having those experiences have been the best.”

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