Time for league meets

By KEVIN EIS cnsports@crescent-news.com Published:

The summer miles are logged, the duals are in the books and the invitationals have been completed.

While many of the area harriers have previously competed against each other throughout the season, the time has come to determine league champions.

Saturday will be that reckoning day for boys and girls cross country packs throughout the six-county region, as the NLL, NWOAL, GMC and NWC league championships will be held at four different locations with plenty of questions to be answered.

Can D-II Napoleon establish supremacy in a new league packed with Division I schools?

Is there any GMC boys team that can prevent a Fairview three-peat? How will a young Tinora girls squad fare as an up-and-coming league favorite?

Does Archbold have what it takes to topple long time NWOAL champion Delta while packing in front of strong Liberty Center and Bryan boys teams? Will the Liberty Center girls continue their dominance in the NWOAL against a very solid Wauseon pack?

These questions and many more will be answered as the postseason approaches.

The following is a glimpse of the upcoming area league showdowns.

Northern Lakes League

While Napoleon may have fielded a Greater Buckeye Conference individual boys champion and captured a girls team title a year ago, this has been a year for the Wildcats to pick up the pace.

Literally.

Now having found a new home within the Northern Lakes League among a host of bigger Division I schools, it will be an entirely new look for the Blue-and-White on Saturday at Toledo's Pearson Park.

Whereas in the past Napoleon boys and girls coach Randy Burke was not too concerned with the GBC meet other than to help prepare his packs for Division II district competition, being the "new kid on the block" has possibly changed all that.

Heading into Saturday's NLL championship meet against D-I giants Northview, Southview, Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Springfield, Rossford and Maumee, Burke has his harriers determined to prove that the size of the school has little to do with the size of the heart.

"We're just looking forward to getting in there and showing the bigger schools that Napoleon can run hard," he said. "We're going to be consistent, we're going to be competitive with all the schools and it will start us out on our postseason championship."

With a new league comes a new set of rules, and the NLL factors regular season dual meets and double-duals in with the championship race results to ultimately crown the conference champion. Fortunately for the Napoleon girls, they are still right on track to battle defending champNorthview for NLL bragging rights.

"I think coaches have different philosophies and the administrators do, but we're adjusting," noted Burke of the new system. "The dual meets counted this year. A lot of teams didn't run hard at the dual meets, but we kept it in our training philosophy.

"The girls have a good shot. We lost to Northview in a double-dual meet with Bowling Green, but if we can win Saturday we will have the overall seasonal championship."

Ranked third in D-II, the Napoleon girls have been consistently led throughout the season by Maddie Grooms (Fr), Meredith Hoops (Sr), Amber Willeman (Sr), Erica Monnin (Sr), Alexa Sonnenberg (So) and Hannah Westhoven (So), with Marissa Cramer (So), Sarah Waisner (Fr) and Taryn Druhot (Jr) battling for the seventh spot.

"We've been running them into the ground, trying to get PRs out of them with tired legs and a little mental fatigue here and there, but the girls are progressing nicely," said Burke. "We're just getting them to believe that once we're rested we'll be able to have good time drops and hopefully challenge each week for a championship."

Despite moving up against D-I competition, Napoleon senior and last year's GBC individual champion Steven Weaver should not only lead the Wildcat boys pack, but also be strongly in the running for a NLL individual crown.

"He's by far the favorite," said Burke of his senior standout. "There are some other kids that have run 15:30s, but some of the courses they've run on have been really fast, whether they were proper distance or not. But he's right there in the mix, and I would say he would be the guy to beat."

Falling in behind Weaver to challenge Northview, which also claimed the NLL boys crown a year ago, will be Clay Hunter, a junior who is consistently running less than 17:00.

"He's done very well, and we're looking for a good time drop out of him," Burke said of Hunter.

Burke is also looking for good times out of senior Matt Rosebrock and freshman Brock Leatherman if his boys squad is going to be competitive against an array of talented D-I teams.

"We should be somewhere in the middle of the pack out of the teams," Burke concluded. "Northview and Bowling Green are teams that are going to really be up there. We should be battling with Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg. Hopefully we'll be ahead of two or three teams that way and finish in the middle of the pack."

While open races are scheduled for 1 p.m. and 1:40 p.m., the girls varsity race is slated to begin at 2:20 before the boys hit the course at 3 p.m.

NWOAL

A possible changing of the guards for the boys and a three-peat for the girls may be in order at Bryan's Moore Park on Saturday.

While Delta has had a stranglehold on the boys title for the past several seasons, Archbold, Bryan and Liberty Center appear to be in the mix of hopefuls to take this year's crown. Meanwhile, a strong Wauseon pack is looking to prevent Liberty Center from securing its third straight girls title.

LC, Archbold and Bryan were right behind Delta a year ago, but graduation took its toll on the Panthers.

As last year's returning runner-up, Liberty Center will rely heavily on team leaders Jake Atkinson (Sr), Joe Seedorf (Jr) and Cameron Weaks (So) if Tim Atkinson's crew to stay beat out Archbold and Bryan.

"We've got to focus on being consistent," said Atkinson. "That's something we have not done as a team. We've yet to have all of our cylinders running where we've got all five of our guys running well."

That has certainly not been a problem for Archbold.

The Blue Streaks packed Zeb Frank, Alex Hurst, Bryce Tinsman and Adrian Ramirez together in the 14th through 17th positions a year ago. With Frank, Hurst and Tinsman all returning juniors and Ramirez now in his senior season, Archbold boys coach Mike Wachtmann insists packing together is his team's strength.

"We looked at some statistics after the regionals last year, and it looked to us like we're certainly in the top 10 percent of packing teams in the state," noted the Archbold mentor. "We may not be as fast with some of our lead runners, and we're not, but when we come in we come in all together."

With junior Nathan Wachtmann and senior Chandler Tinsman running steadily in the fifth and sixth positions, the Archbold head coach has his 19th-ranked squad eyeing a league title.

"We're planning on winning but we're certainly not discounting the capabilities of Liberty Center and Bryan," stated Wachtmann. "Atkinson has a good program and the Liberty boys have run well over the last couple years. They've still got a couple of guys that can come at us.

"So what we want to do is just compress. We want to keep our front guys pushing toward the leaders of the pack and just pretty much be the number-one packing team."

Bryan will field a strong young team led by sophomores Evan Moore and Jacob Will along with junior Sheldon Struble and the senior duo of Mason Gansmiller and Nathan Grube.

Prior to the boys meet will be a battle of youth between two-time defending champion Liberty Center and Wauseon, both which feature stellar freshmen competing for the individual top spot won by LC's Kelly Haubert last season.

Brittany Atkinson has led the Lady Tigers all season, while Wauseon freshman sensation Taylor Vernot has led the Lady Indians.

"She's gone under 19 (minutes)," said Atkinson of Vernot. "I believe she went 18:44 last Saturday, and my daughter Brittany has gone 18:26. So I would say they're two of the top runners in this area for girls."

Now a junior, Haubert returns this season along with Paige Chamberlain (So), Chelsea Knapp (Sr) and Jordan Sidel (Sr) with hopes of capturing a third consecutive NWOAL title for the Lady Tigers, ranked sixth in D-III.

"I think it would be something pretty special because it's pretty hard to do in our league," said Atkinson on the possibility of a three-peat. "I've always told the girls if you can finish in the top two you've got a great shot of making it to state. It's a challenge because most of the schools are a lot bigger than we are. They're Division II schools and we're Division III, so it's an opportunity for us to compete against bigger schools."

In addition to Vernot, Wauseon, ranked 21st in D-II, features seniors Tessa Herring and Jessica Bachman along with the freshman duo of Aleea Volkman and Aneesa Volkman.

With Wauseon returning a balance of experience from last year's NWOAL runner-up pack in addition to some speedy newcomers, Atkinson knows what a battle is in store.

"I think it's going to be a little bit tighter than what people think," he concluded. "Wauseon has a pretty decent team with some pretty solid runners, but I think if we go in there and run like we're capable of running, I would definitely say we're a favorite."

Saturday's girls race is slated for 10 a.m., while the starting time for the boys is 10:40 a.m.

GMC

Grover Hill will be the site once again for Green Meadows Conference boys and girls in search of a league championship.

Starting times for the GMC varsity races are 10:30 a.m. for the girls and 11 a.m. for the boys.

With returning individual champ Kyle Thomas leading the pack in his junior season, Fairview is a strong favorite to lock up its third consecutive GMC boys crown.

"Our biggest plan throughout the year is a lot of miles in the summer, and our goal is to get PRs after PRs," said Fairview boys coach Curt Foust. "That's pretty much what's been happening. We always try to peak throughout these few weeks and I feel like it's on schedule."

With Thomas posting a season best time of 16:39 over 3.1 miles and freshman Austin Graham consistently registering in the low 18s, Fairview is also getting help from sophomores Kaleb Eisel and Brad Sanderson and junior Brad Nester.

Does Foust feel his pack has what it takes to vie for a three-peat?

"That's obviously been our goal all year," he explained. "But Ayersville's really good, and they've beaten us consistently up until the last couple of weeks."

Led by senior Cade Mansfield, who crossed the line in fifth last year to lead Ayersville to runner-up status, the Pilots should provide the Black-and-Gold with the toughest competition with a pack that includes Noah Frost (Fr), Kyle Kissner (Sr) and Kyle Behringer (So).

However, as the Fairview coach pointed out, a couple of off weeks out of Mansfield has the Apache boys uncertain as to what Ayersville will bring to the table come race time.

"They have a couple of runners who are not running full strength," he noted. "What we've been doing is preparing for a full-strength Ayersville, but we don't know what to expect."

Individually, Tinora junior Sam Lehman returns as the GMC runner-up, while Hicksville senior Jake Sweet also returns following a top-10 finish a year ago.

After not fielding a girls team in last season's championship which was won by Fairview, Tinora has burst on the scene as the team to beat after winning the Antwerp Invitational among a host of GMC teams.

"We're a young team," said Tinora girls mentor Lisa Maxwell. "I have seven varsity runners and five of them are freshmen. The other two are brand new runners to the sport. They're just finding their groove. They're just finding out how to run the three-mile race and finding out what they need to do to get where they need to be."

Leading the Lady Rams has been the freshman duo of Emma Bowden and Jillian Dietrich, while sophomore Allison Weber has been a consistent third runner. In addition, freshman Allison Cereghin has filled the fourth spot while Ashley Harrington and Abbie McGuire have typically battled for the fifth position.

"We have a lot of good competition in the GMC, but we have come out and performed well in a lot of the big meets," said Maxwell. "We've run a lot of GMC teams and a lot of teams from around the area in different invitationals."

Ayersville junior Hannah McKibben, the defending champion, returns in an attempt to defend the title while leading an Ayersville pack which finished third last season.

Meanwhile, Samantha Rhodes (Sr), Emillee Carder (Fr), and Malin Adams (Fr) have packed well together as Fairview prepares to make a run at defending the GMC crown.

"They've ran the GMC meet as junior high runners," said Maxwell of her young pack of harriers. "They've been to this meet before, but are still having the nerves coming in and knowing that they're a very competitive team. They just need to run their best at this meet and as we move on to districts their nerves are really going to start firing up."

NWC

A year removed from last-place team finishes in both the boys and girls races, Paulding will attempt to improve its Northwest Conference standings this year at the Paulding Reservoir as the host school.

Storm Duncan (Sr) Andrew Layman (So) and Travis Jones (So) have been the top finishers for the Paulding boys this season, while Ashley Johanns (So) and Sarah Nardone (Jr) have paced a young girls pack.

A mere three points were all that separated NWC champion Columbus Grove from runner-up Crestview, while the Spencerville girls ran away from the competition to sit atop the league a year ago.

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