The chance to race for a state title is so close, area runners can practically taste it.
With a qualifying finish in Saturday’s Division II and Division III regional at Tiffin’s Hedges Boyer Park, local cross country athletes will earn the right to compete for state glory in Hebron next week.
The road to National Trail Raceway will be far from smoothly paved, however, with a bevy of talented runners battling for their right to advance.
The Division III girls race will get things started at 11 a.m. on Saturday with the top seven teams and runners in the top 28 not on qualifying teams advancing to state. The Division II girls race will follow at approximately 11:45 with the top four teams and runners in the top 16.
The Division III boys race will begin at around 1:30 p.m. while the Division II boys race will commence at 2:15. The D-III boys will send the same qualifying amounts as the girls while the D-II boys race will send the top three teams and individuals in the top 12.
In the Division II race at Tiffin, Defiance and Wauseon both will likely play major roles in how the field finishes if their district outputs are any indication.
The DHS boys claimed the team championship at the Ottawa Park District, spurred by a district championship from Mhalicki Bronson and a runner-up finish from Brennen Roehrig, along with top-10 finishes from Colin Moats (seventh) and Cooper Morton (eighth).
“We don’t have our pack quite yet,” said Defiance coach Obie Mouser of his fifth-ranked Bulldogs. “We’ve been working on it this week and talking about it. Brennan Roehrig made a nice move up to second, we just need to have our five move up and tighten it up.”
Wauseon wasn’t far behind in third as Braden Vernot earned a ninth-place effort to lead a standout district effort from the Indians.
Along with Ottawa-Glandorf’s team berth in regionals, the Napoleon duo of Daniel Gaffney (10th at districts) and Ryan Otto and Bryan’s Joshuah Taylor (sixth at districts) will represent the area at Tiffin.
The matchup of Bronson and Shelby star Caleb Brown, who ran a blistering 14:51.2 to win the Galion District by nearly a full minute, will be in the spotlight as both are nationally ranked. Brown’s district time is the fastest in Ohio this year, according to MileSplit.com.
On the girls side, Wauseon and Defiance both claimed team spots in the regional thanks to respective second and third-place finishes at districts. Wauseon freshman Grace Rhoades was second to Van Wert’s Caylee Phillips in the individual standings while Defiance’s Shay Soukup was third. Abby Horvath was sixth overall in a resurgent effort for the Bulldogs.
“The margin for error shrinks the further you get into the tournament trail,” noted DHS girls coach Scott Saner. “We’re encouraged by the district meet, we ran a lot better. I don’t think we had a perfect race by any means but we really improved at Ottawa.”
Bryan’s Audrey Zimmerman and Macee Dilbone will compete as individuals at the regional meet in hopes of ending up in Hebron.
The regional field will be treacherous, however. A forecast for potential heavy rain Saturday will likely leave a messy course for runners but the Division II field will be packed with contenders, headlined by Galion District champion Lexington. The Minutemen finished with 28 team points, 33 clear of runner-up Ontario, with both squads as teams Saner noted as “head and shoulders above the field.”
“Shawnee’s faced us three times and beaten us three times, so they’re obviously a contender,” added Saner. “Wauseon had a good day at districts and we were only eight points behind them so that’s just a couple spots here or there. Between us, Shawnee, Wauseon, Celina, Milan Edison, there’s probably five or six teams battling for two spots so you’ve got to have your A game if you want to do well.”
Holgate and Archbold will compete at Tiffin with targets on their back following district championships at Ottawa a week ago.
Holgate’s pack mentality worked to perfection as the Tigers finished 20 points clear of Tinora, as five of the six regional-qualifying teams came from the Green Meadows Conference. Fairview was third while Edgerton and Ayersville added fifth and sixth-place efforts to move on to regionals. The Tigers placed their top five runners in the top 18 and the top six in the top 22, clinching the team crown.
Sophomore Addison Casillas led the way in seventh while freshman Jack Westrick (ninth), juniors Hayden Hartman and Bailey Sonnenberg (12th and 13th) and senior Avery Casillas (18th) rounded out the top scorers.
“The guys, they’ve just worked so hard,” said Holgate head coach Brad Hurst. “They just run as hard as they can at all times. The biggest thing Saturday is we have to compete. We’ve just got to go out and do our thing but we’ve got to battle at the highest level.”
Noah Fisher, the defending Division III state cross country champion, rolled past the field to move on to regionals with his Ayersville team while Fairview placed three runners in the top eight with Treyvon Hastings (Jr, second at districts), Nick Breininger (Sr., fifth) and Ethan Underwood (So., eighth) all recording great showings.
“I think the top seven or eight teams in the field are really, really good,” said Hurst. “Hopewell-Loudon is competing really well then you’ve got teams like Ashland Crestview, Minster, Tinora, they’re all running really well. It’s about who you’re around and who you’re ahead of.”
The Tigers weren’t quite as successful on the girls side of things but will be well represented at regionals thanks to top-10 finishes from sisters Raena (Sr, second) and Elisabeth Willett (Fr., eighth). Archbold took the team crown, headlined by individual champion Kylie Sauder’s 19:12.3 run and fourth-place freshman Sophie Rupp.
Pettisville and Edgerton will also compete on the team level at regionals, joined by Fairview’s Taylor King and Leah Layman, Stryker’s Trinitie Woolace, Wayne Trace’s Kassidy Campbell, Antwerp’s Aeriel Snyder and Leipsic’s Whitney Langhals.
Though Liberty Center did not compete in the Ottawa District, the Tigers still fared well in the postseason as usual, finishing second in the boys meet and winning the girls meet by 55 points.
Hope Oelkrug, LC’s standout sophomore, continued a stellar second varsity season with a nearly 14-second victory at the district level, joined by junior teammate Sydney Miller in third and top-13 finishes from Dalayna Ashbaugh (12th) and Cassie Elieff (13th).
For the LC boys, Nathaniel Elieff led the charge with an eighth-place effort while Kenny and Chris Miles finished 13th and 19th, respectively.
Other Division III regional competitors from the area hail from Columbus Grove following the district hosts’ lopsided sweep of the boys and girls meets. Nolan German, Kyle Looser and Paige Hoersten of Ottoville will compete as individuals along with Kalida’s RyanLucke and Will Zeller and Delta’s Nickolas Sherick.