When it comes to competing for the Division III girls cross country state championship, the Fort Loramie Redskins are up to the challenge.
As for the Minster Wildcats, they are the challenge.
Minster, the state’s top-ranked team in Division III, goes for a fourth straight championship at National Trail Raceway in Hebron on Saturday. The Wildcats make their 32nd state appearance and have won 12 titles overall. Both are state records.
Fort Loramie finished second to Minster last season by 88 points. The Redskins — and rest of the state’s D-III field — look to close the gap Saturday in a matchup based on respect more than rivalry. After last season’s state meet the Wildcats and Redskins celebrated by taking team photos and selfies with each other.
“We think our strength is the ability to place all seven runners inside other teams’ top five,” Fort Loramie coach Dennis Prenger said. “We never take these trips to state for granted, so we are going to take full advantage of this opportunity on Saturday. We’ll represent the community of Fort Loramie and give it our best shot.”
Minster won the Tiffin regional with a 62-91 victory over runner-up Liberty Center last Saturday. Minster’s toughest challenge should again come from No. 2 West Liberty-Salem, No. 3 Fort Loramie and No. 4 Liberty Center.
Junior Ella Boate finished second at the Tiffin regional and was followed on the team by freshman Taylor Roth, junior Mason Pohl, senior Mackenzie Bohman, freshman Cameo Cedarleaf, sophomore Emma Meyer and senior Rachel Kitzmiller. Boate, Pohl and Bohman all ran on the state title team last season.
Fort Loramie, making its fourth consecutive appearance and 18th overall, returned its top seven from last season. Freshman Ava Turner managed to crack the lineup and joins juniors Dani Eilerman, Caitlyn Gasson, Corynn Heitkamp and sophomores Olivia Borchers, Anna Detrick and Claire Rethman.
Versailles, ranked No. 20 in the state, also qualified. The Tigers lineup includes seniors Hannah Bey and Emma Peters, juniors Maria Mangen and Lauren Menke and sophomores Delaney Barga, Madelyn Holzapfel and Kaylee Phelan. Versailles finished fourth at the regional meet advance to state for the third straight season and 18th overall.
Also at the D-III state meet on Saturday:
Anna’s boys return to state for the first time since 2016 and the 11th time overall. The Rockets didn’t win a meet this season until their victory at the Shelby County Athletic League championships. They followed that up with a district championship before taking second at last week’s regional meet.
The Rockets, ranked No. 9 in the state, feature senior Caleb Gaier, juniors Nick Fry, Conner McKinney and Jacob Robinson and sophomores Collin Frilling, Hayden Schmidt and Lucas Smith. Smith won individual titles the past three weeks with victories at the SCAL, district and regional meets.
Minster and Botkins also qualified for the boys meet.
Wildcats’ sophomore and two-time district champ Alex Albers finished second at the Tiffin regional. Senior Luke Barga, a three-time state qualifier, and senior Austin Felice also ran on Minster’s 2017 state team. The Wildcats, ranked No. 11 in the state, have reached state nine times overall.
Junior Brock Schulte dropped 40 seconds off his personal record in the past four weeks since returning from an injury. Junior Joel Berelsman, sophomore Joseph Slonkosky and sophomore Tyler Prenger round out the roster.
“It’s nice to be back at state as a team,” Minster coach Larry Topp said. “These guys have been a joy to work with. The two seniors have been great leaders so they will be a positive influence on the core of our team, which is very young.”
The Botkins boys, ranked No. 17, are back at state for the seventh time and first since 2015. Sophomore Collin Watterson, who missed qualifying as an individual by one spot last season, rallied to finish fourth at the regional meet.
Lone senior Elliot Goubeaux was on a team that finished last in the SCAL in junior high. He now caps his high school career at state. Watterson and Goubeaux are joined by juniors Donovan Brown and Alan Fullenkamp, sophomore Cole Steinke and freshmen Carter Pleiman and Keaton Schnippel.
“We would love to be top 10 in the state,” Botkins coach Ryan Gutman said. “I think it’s important that when the team gets to this level, they are not satisfied. They have to be confident when running against the best in the state. They have to remember all the hard work it took to get here and not be satisfied with just showing up.”
Houston sends two individuals with senior Blake Jacobs and sophomore Ava Knouff. Jacobs brings state experience after running with the Wildcats’ team in 2017. He finished 10th at the regional meet. Knouff returns for a second straight season. She finished 15th at the regional meet to grab the second-to-last qualifying spot.
Both runners are looking to crack the top 50.
“We talk a lot about racing with heart and desire in the postseason,” Houston coach Bill McKinney said. “A lot of times qualifying comes down to who wants it the most. I think both our kids really showed a lot of heart on Saturday in their races.”
Fort Loramie sophomore Colten Gasson — a member of the Redskins’ D-III state title team last season — finished seventh at regional despite a fall. As Gasson climbed a hill at Troy, a runner in front of him slipped and took Gasson’s feet out from underneath him. He regrouped to qualify for state.
“He has been experimenting throughout the season with different racing strategy and I think he figured things out in the last two meets,” Prenger said. “It’s always a little harder to go to the meet as an individual versus running on a team. … He knows how to work, he is self-motivated and our goal is for him to earn All-Ohio honors this weekend.”
Russia junior Becca Seger finished 14th at the regional meet to qualify. She ran at state with the Raiders’ team in 2017.
“We are excited about having Becca back at state this year,” said Russia coach Mark Travis. “There is tough competition from the area competing at the state level, but it’s nice we’ve seen this competition a lot so Becca knows right where she needs to be.”