It's on to regional competition for a handful of Division II cross country teams and individuals in two different locations Saturday in the final quest for the Ohio's biggest stage at Hebron's National Trail Raceway.
As with districts, the top-16 individual finishers not on a team placing in the top four will qualify to run with the best in the state on Nov. 5.
While Wauseon will be sending its boys and girls packs to the usual Region 6 site at Tiffin's Hedges-Boyer Park, the Defiance boys will also be heading to Tiffin while the DHS girls will compete in the Region 8 meet at Troy's Memorial Stadium along with the girls squad from Napoleon.
Meanwhile, Napoleon's Steven Weaver and Clay Hunter will make the trip to Tiffin as individuals, as will Bryan's Evan Morr, Ric Roe of Swanton, and the Delta trio of K.J. Abair, Alec Nash and Nick Jones.
The D-II girls will hit the course at Tiffin's Hedges-Boyer Park at 11:50 a.m., while starting time for the D-II boys race is slated for 2:05 p.m.
Meanwhile, the girls D-II race at Troy is set to begin at 11:45 a.m.
In boys action at Tiffin, Defiance, which missed a regional berth a year ago, will be returning to Tiffin as a team following a D-II District 1 runner-up performance, just 11 points behind 7th-ranked Van Wert on Sunday at the Ottawa District.
But now, in addition to facing the likes of Van Wert again, the Bulldogs finds themselves pitted against state-ranked superpowers from the Akron District and the top four packs out of Lorain, including top-ranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and 4th-ranked Woodridge, winner of the past five D-II state titles.
"That group coming over from Akron is totally new," said DHS boys coach Obie Mouser. "I would say you have St. Vincent-St. Mary and Woodridge, and I think the rest of us are pretty good teams and we're all on the bubble. It's just going to be really tight. Whoever's kids make a mistake or run tight, it's over for them."
DHS - ranked 18th in D-II - will rely on the experience of junior Abel Flores, who has placed sixth at Tiffin the past two regional meets.
Sophomore newcomer Alex Barrientos has joined Flores at the front of the pack, as the duo notched third and fourth at last week's district race. Jacob Rosebrock also helped the 'Dogs to district runner-up status in 15th followed by Ben Rath in 17th.
"Right now we've been running really, really well with Abel hanging in there and Alex Barrientos running super," lauded Mouser. "Jacob Rosebrock has improved immensely and is running really well. Ben Rath is getting back into form. We just need to get our number five with the other four or we're going to be in deep trouble."
Earning runner-up honors in Ottawa's District 2 to join Defiance at Tiffin, the Wauseon boys will once again hit the Region 6 scene along with the girls, whose two-year absence from regionals snapped a four-year streak of being there.
Led by District 2 champion Taylor Vernot along with fourth and fifth-place runs by Tessa Herring and Aneesa Volkman, the Indians also captured a District 2 team crown.
"Tiffin is going to be tough," explained Wauseon mentor Rebecca Stuckey. "There are some highly-ranked teams and really consistently-performing teams that will be there."
She is also more than wary of the 15 other teams and talented individuals that will be sharing the course, especially her boys pack. The freshman duo of Wade Hodges and Quentin Reiser paced Wauseon with district finishes of eighth and 11th.
"Wade Hodges has been in the 16:40s," Stuckey noted. "I haven't got everybody there yet, but I would think he is going to be in the hunt to get out as an individual, which would be awesome to be able to do that as a freshman."
Her girls squad is faced with its share of obstacles as well, including the top two rated teams in the state - Cuyahoga Falls Christian Academy and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
"I think that they are right in the hunt," said Stuckey of her girls. "Obviously there are the two parochial schools that are really good, but I feel like we are definitely one of the top six or seven teams."
When it comes to individual titles, Napoleon's Weaver is poised to add to his NLL and District 1 collection in the boys Region 6 race following a 5k time of 16:21 at Ottawa. Following a fourth-place effort as a sophomore, Weaver was runner-up last year.
"I think Steven's got a very good shot of going all the way," said Napoleon coach Randy Burke. "I don't think there's going to be very much competition there for him, but we'll just have to wait and see. Right now we're just concentrating on winning the regional and setting him up for his best time at state."
As for Hunter, Burke has high hopes for his junior harrier as well after watching him cross the line in 12th place at districts.
"Steven will do his best to help Clay out … we'll use different race tactics," said Burke. "We'll try some things but, ultimately, Steven will take care of Steven and Clay will have to take care of Clay."
In Region 8 at Troy, Burke's third-ranked girls squad will hit the course following a District 3 crown behind a runner-up performance by freshman Maddie Grooms in addition to a solid pack of Amber Willeman (7th), Erica Monnin (10th), Meredith Hoops (11th), Alexa Sonnenberg (12th) and Hannah Westhover (13th).
"Our pack has always been strong for us," explained Burke, whose girls are making their fourth consecutive regional trip. "We're hoping to continue running very well with our pack up in a group, and that's what's going to make us stronger."
Including Defiance, Celina and Otsego, Napoleon will also be faced with rigid competition from, but not limited to, 13 other packs.
Dayton's two districts should provide some worthy adversaries for Napoleon and DHS, as five of the eight teams from there are state-ranked, featuring No. 4 Archbishop Alter, No. 7 Bellbrook and No. 9 Greenon.
After just missing a regional berth last year, the Defiance girls will be making their return behind a District 3 race which saw the Lady Bulldogs place four in the top 16.
"It's a good feeling," DHS mentor Scott Saner admitted. "It's something we've kind of grown to expect. It speaks well of the work that they've done all year.."
Paced by senior Kristen Fett (3rd) and freshman Olivia Fett (4th), Defiance also got solid efforts out of seniors Candice Lawson (15th) and Brittney Holmes (16th). The senior Fett will be making her third straight regional appearance, the past two as an individual.
"Their goal is to advance," stated Saner of his girls squad. "We won't go anywhere as a team unless Kristen is up in that front pack. The way this sport operates is that since you can move on individually or you can move on as a team, you have to be a little bit more selfish in your performance at this level."