With a strong running tradition it’s not surprising 53 athletes from Shelby County will compete in the regional cross country championships in Troy on Saturday.
That most of them are underclassmen? Welcome to the area’s youth movement in distance running. And it’s gathering momentum heading into Saturday.
Of the 53 runners competing in the three divisions, 17 are freshmen and 15 are sophomores. That’s 32 underclassmen (along with 21 juniors and seniors) competing for a chance to qualify for the state meet.
“There are a lot of talented underclassmen girls in the SCAL, possibly more than I have ever seen before,” Houston coach Bill McKinney said.
McKinney has one of them on his girls team. Freshman Ava Knouff finished second in the SCAL behind Fort Loramie freshman Olivia Borchers and qualified for regional as an individual.
“She knows some of the other SCAL freshman very well and knows what it means to race against them,” McKinney said. “She has run in major races before and has performed well so she should be confident coming into Troy.”
The top four teams and top 16 individual runners in D-III advance to the state meet. Expect the SCAL to be among the top contenders. Botkins competes with sophomores Lisa Aselage, Kelsie Burmeister, Jill Greve, Arica Jutte, Emma Koenig, Makenna Maurer and freshman Maddie Koenig. A veteran Russia team sends seniors Emma Delaet, Anna Fiessinger and Claire Meyer, juniors Natalie Klosterman and Sarah Pinchot, sophomore Becca Seger and freshman Ella Hoehne.
Anna freshman Kaylie Kipp also qualified as did Houston senior Hollie Voisard.
“I think that’s more typical on the girls side. It’s more unusual on the boys side to have freshman that are big time contributors for you,” Fort Loramie coach Dennis Prenger said. “On the guys side, I credit our three seniors and the things they’ve done to make the freshmen feel like they are an important part of the team and they are counting on them.”
For the Redskins girls that job belongs to juniors Danielle Berning and Paige Rethman. Berning is the lone upperclassman competing among Fort Loramie’s seven runners at regional. Rethman would likely be joining her but has battled injuries this season. Joining Berning at regionals are sophomores Dani Eilerman, Caitlyn Gasson and Corynn Heitkamp and freshmen Anna Detrick, Claire Rethman and Borchers. That group claimed a D-III district championship at Cedarville University last week.
Fort Loramie enters the D-III regional championships ranked No. 3 in the coaches’ state poll behind Minster and West Liberty-Salem.
At the SCAL meet two weeks ago Borchers won the girls title in 18:51.4 for a 1:08.5 victory over Knouff. The top five finishers at the league meet were underclassmen as were 15 of the top 20.
“Liv has led us from the beginning of the year,” Prenger said. “We certainly expected her to be in a position like that.”
On the boys side of the SCAL, nine of the top 20 were underclassmen.
Just like the girls, the Botkins boys are young. Junior Elliot Goubeaux is joined by sophomores Donovan Brown, Alan Fullenkamp, R.J. Poeppelman and freshmen Jameson Meyer, Collin Watterson and Shane Weatherhead.
Anna’s boys also qualified as a team with senior Derek Arling, junior Caleb Gaier, sophomores Jacob Robinson and Nick Fry and freshmen Collin Frilling, Hayden Schmidt and Lucas Smith.
“When you look at the county standings there were a lot of freshmen boys that made it onto the all-county first and second team,” Prenger said. “Where does this take them because they haven’t reached their ceiling?”
For the boys, Fort Loramie also qualified as a team with seniors Joe Ballas, Jake Rethman and Gavin Schulze, junior Jordan Drees and freshmen Evan Eilerman, Colin Gasson and Colten Gasson.
Ballas, the D-III district champion, and Rethman are among the contenders for the regional title.
“I like to think we have the best 1-2 punch in the state,” Prenger said. “It makes the No. 3-4-5 guys’ job easier. But at the same time you can’t waste that opportunity. When you have two guys up front like that you don’t want to waste their effort. It certainly makes it easier knowing you’re going to throw a low score down with those two.”
Houston’s boys qualified with seniors Tristin Freistuhler and Ethan Knouff, juniors Brennen Arnold, Joseph Earl, Blake Jacobs and Patrick Meiring and freshman Ryan Ely.
Sidney senior Gavin Bockrath qualified as an individual.