Minster High School’s top seven runners will toe the line for the start of the Division III girls cross country state championships Saturday. The Wildcats’ team, though, extends far beyond that starting box at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Cracking the Wildcats’ varsity lineup can be just as tough as winning a state championship, which Minster has done two straight seasons and 11 overall. The competition is strong. The companionship is stronger.
“It’s friendly competition,” Minster coach Jessie Magoto said. “They all work together and in the end whoever is running in that top seven, the eighth runner and beyond know they’ve helped pushed the girls to that point. There’s a strong enough camaraderie on our team that it’s all good. Only seven get to race, but they know those seven have the heart of everyone on our entire team with them.”
Minster enters Saturday’s state meet as Ohio’s top-ranked team in D-III, ahead of No. 2 West Liberty-Salem and No. 3 Fort Loramie. At last season’s state meet Minster placed its top five runners – including D-III state champion Emma Watcke – among the top 25 overall finishers.
The titles are nice, for sure. Magoto, though, prefers to focus on attitude instead of accolades. It’s the Minster mantra that’s helped building the running powerhouse.
“It’s a balance. We want them to run with confidence,” Magoto said. “They’re winners before they even hit the course. They know that. They know winning isn’t about a place or a title, it’s about what you do every day. It’s the commitment you make to the sport.
“We want to be relaxed and confident. Leave it all on the course. Just the basics. It’s the same thing we tell them all year.”
Competing for Minster are seniors Kaitlynn Albers and Madeline Magoto, juniors Mackenzie Bohman, Gwendolyn Meiring and Watcke, sophomore Mason Pohl and freshman Emma Meyer.
“We don’t talk about a streak or anything like that,” Magoto said. “Each team, each season is unique and not to be compared to the one before. They should be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far and excited about the opportunity this weekend.”
Fort Loramie’s girls are also in the running for a podium finish with a youthful lineup featuring junior Danielle Berning, sophomores Dani Eilerman, Caitlyn Gasson, Corynn Heitkamp and freshmen Olivia Borchers, Anna Detrick and Claire Rethman. The Redskins finished fourth at state last season.
As for the Redskins boys, they enter state ranked No. 4 in D-III with a pair of first-place votes. Seniors Joe Ballas, Jake Rethman and Gavin Schulze, junior Jordan Drees and freshmen Evan Eilerman, Colin Gasson and Colten Gasson will run for Loramie.
“I think we’re a wild card,” Rethman said. “The year we won state (2016) we were coming in the underdog. I don’t think we’re projected to win but I wouldn’t count us out. If everything comes together I think we can do something special.”
Ballas agreed: “That’s the No. 1 priority. A lot of people say we have a shot to win. We’re going to go for it and do the best we can.”
Houston sends a pair of runners with senior Tristin Freistuhler and freshman Ava Knouff, both in D-III. Freistuhler finished 69th last season.
“This is Tristin’s second trip to the state meet so he knows what to expect this time,” Houston coach Bill McKinney said. “He’s been running really well this year and is peaking at the right time. We’re looking at a top 50 finish. This is his last cross country race as a senior so I know he’s going to give it everything.
“Ava is also running well right now, really coming on this past month. I think she’s finally adjusting to the 5K race distance as a freshman and feels much more comfortable. Her goal is to finish in the top 50 as well and to hopefully gain valuable experience.”
Botkins sophomore Emma Koenig represents the Trojans, also in D-III. Koenig ran a 24:32 at the Shelby County Preview in August. After discovering Koenig had issues with iron she starting dropping time to post a 20:12 at the regional meet.
“It’s hard to imagine a kid who has worked harder to be put in the position she is in today,” Botkins coach Ryan Gutman said.
Koenig finished 105th at last season’s state meet in 21:04. Her goal Saturday is to improve on both.
“It’s difficult to run such an emotional race at regional and to turn around and do that again at state,” Gutman said. “I know this: If anyone can do it Emma can. She knows what it takes to bounce back.”
Minster junior Luke Barga qualified as an individual in D-III. He ran at state with the Wildcats’ team last season and finished 115th.
“Luke will have the goal of running another personal record this week as he did last week,” Minster coach Larry Topp said of Barga’s 16:54:54 at the regional meet. “With the team not qualifying we will shift gears into finishing off a very successful year for Luke.”
Also in D-III, the Versailles girls return after finishing 11th last season. Seniors Kara Spitzer and Liz Watren, junior Emma Peters, sophomores Maria Mangen and Lauren Menke and freshmen Delaney Barga and Madelyn Holzapfel compete for the Tigers.
“We are shooting for a top 10 finish,” Versailles coach Mark Pleiman said. “We are not a front-loaded team but are a pack running style team, so we usually can get our five point scoring runners within a minute of each other.”
The meet, which was postponed last week to Saturday due to flooding, starts at 11 a.m. with the boys’ divisions, starting with D-III. The girls meet starts at 1:30, also with D-III.