The ramp-up in intensity, passion and determination that comes with the postseason has arrived for area cross country runners as the district tournaments on Saturday in Division II and III will determine whose seasons continue another week and whose years come to a close.
Division II runners will head to Putnam County and Columbus Grove High School to compete in district action as Bryan, Defiance, Napoleon, O-G, Paulding, Swanton and Wauseon join Division III runners from a bevy of schools, including Kalida and Wayne Trace.
Meanwhile, the majority of area Division III schools will take a short trip off U.S. 24 to Leaders Farms outside of Napoleon for the Liberty Center District. With 25 schools in the boys and girls district, the races will be split into two district competitions with four team qualifiers from the first race and three from the second.
Success in any schools’ respective conference meets can be just the shot in the arm necessary to compete at the next level in the postseason and both Defiance and Wauseon will be looking for that in the Division II district race at Columbus Grove on Saturday.
For Defiance and longtime boys coach Obie Mouser, a year away from the top spot in the Western Buckeye League proved too long as the Bulldogs reclaimed WBL supremacy a week ago. The journey through an up-and-down season has seen the Blue and White show improvement, per their veteran mentor.
“When we started out, we had one kid coming off illness and another coming off an injury and you add a tough schedule in there, we got hammered in a couple early meets,” said Mouser. “It wasn’t an effort problem, we ran hard. These past three weeks, though, we’ve started gelling and we’re really starting to come on.
“(Winning the WBL) was a big shot in the arm for us. We’ve looked strong in the last few days and hopefully if we can get out in good shape right away in the race, we’ll be contenders.”
Seniors Josh Horvath and Eli Fortman finished fourth and sixth overall for the Bulldogs in the league championships and, along with a seventh-place race from junior Caleb Brashear and top-15 finishes from senior Nolan Morgan and sophomore Josiah Gonzales, the Bulldogs appear to be finding their stride.
Though their squads came just short of claiming league gold, Wauseon also brings optimism after both the boys and girls teams finished as NWOAL runners-up. The boys squad came just nine hundredths of a second short of a position move-up that would have given the team the outright league title instead of a tie with Archbold that the Bluestreaks won on a sixth-man tiebreak.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in that close of a finish but what we’ve seen over the pas few weeks is kids running in roles and succeeding in roles that they weren’t at the beginning of the year,” explained Indians mentor Joe Allen. “As always when we look at the districts, from a team or individual perspective, the goal is always to try to advance. This district, we’re putting ourselves in a position to do that.”
Liberty Center placed the top three runners in a dominant league meet effort but Wauseon veterans Grace Rhoads (Jr.) and Maggie Duden (Sr.) were fourth and sixth, respectively, providing a talented 1-2 punch for the Tribe.
The boys race saw Hunter Wasnich finish second overall behind Bryan standout Joshuah Taylor with junior Aidan Pena and senior Carter Nofziger adding top-eight finishes.
“On both the boys and girls sides, our three, four and five runners have really come along and we’re going to need them at districts,” added Allen. “Over the last two weeks, we’ve tried to focus on just resharpening where our strengths are.”
The top four teams in each Division II race and individuals not on a qualifying team that finish in the top 16 will qualify for the regional meet in Tiffin next week.
A stacked field will descend on Leaders Farms on Saturday morning as a 25-team district will see four total races run on what projects to be a relatively dry morning.
As in D-II, local squads earned a boost from league success as Green Meadows Conference boys and girls champion Fairview, double-GMC-runner-up Tinora and Buckeye Border Conference champions Holgate and Pettisville will be among those competing.
For Fairview, the titles marked the first girls crown in six years for the Black and Gold and in four years for the boys program.
Though Tinora claimed both the individual titles and had both of their top two runners finish ahead of Fairview’s top runners in both races, the Apaches’ execution and packing up propelled Nic Alvarez’s squads to conference gold and and an extra shot of confidence.
“It definitely builds confidence in what we’ve been working towards,” said the Apache mentor. “You can set goals for down the road but sometimes the kids need that immediate feedback that things are going the right way and they’re clicking. They have an extra pep in their step this week.”
The Apache boys placed runners in fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth to put them over the edge in the GMC team standings with Kyle Rabe, Ethan Underwood, Braylin Snyder and Aspen Brubaker forming a formidable phalanx.
In the girls race, Samantha Rohrs and Kayla Mavis were third and fifth, two of four Fairview runners in the top 11.
“Our strength is a lot of guys and girls with around the same times,” said Alvarez. “In a smaller meet when you pack up like we did, it goes a long way. In the district race, you can’t take anyone or any team for granted. Even the things you’ve done in the last few weeks don’t always carry over.”
Holgate also joined the conference title fray, this time with a new affiliation as the defending GMC boys champions continued their reign in the Buckeye Border Conference and the Tiger girls finished runners-up to Pettisville.
For head coach Brad Hurst, the conference win is a boost but the step up in the postseason is a stark one with the fields the Tigers will compete in.
“In small races, it’s definitely a team sport, it’s not just one runner doing well, it’s all five,” explained Hurst. “If we run in a pack like our boys have and the girls have done more in recent weeks we can have success. There’s only 12 teams in the district with it being split into two races so it’s going to take all of us.”
The course at Leaders Farms is one familiar to most local teams whether through the Liberty Center Extravaganza or the Patrick Henry X&A Invitational during the regular season.
“We told the kids the first time, make sure you pay attention and don’t just run without taking it in,” noted Hurst. “It’s a good course for us. (The district meet) is a business trip for us, though. We’ve got to be focused, it’s not some weekend invitational.
“We’re trying to get a championship and everyone’s trying to go on to regionals. If you don’t perform well you might not be running next week.”
On the boys side, District 1 will feature Antwerp, Ayersville, Delta, Edon, Fayette, Hicksville, Holgate, Liberty Center, Maumee Valley Country Day, North Central, Patrick Henry, Fairview, Cardinal Stritch and Toledo Emmanuel Christian with District 2 made up of Archbold, Edgerton, Evergreen, Hilltop, Montpelier, Northwood, Ottawa Hills, Pettisville, Stryker, Tinora and Toledo Christian.
The girls District 1 race will see Edgerton, Evergreen, Hilltop, Liberty Center, Montpelier, North Central, Northwood, Ottawa Hills, Fairview, Cardinal Stritch, Tinora and Emmanuel Christian while the District 2 field consists of Antwerp, Archbold, Ayersville, Delta, Fayette, Hicksville, Holgate, Maumee Valley Country Day, Patrick Henry, Pettisville, Stryker and Toledo Christian.
The boys District 1 race will have four team qualifiers and individuals in the top 16 advance to regionals while in the boys District 2 and both girls district races, the top three teams from each race and individuals in the top 12 will advance to the regional tournament in Tiffin.
Division III races will be run at 9 a.m., 9:40 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:10 a.m.