BOTKINS — Sightings of Alan Fullenkamp and Donovan Brown on the village streets were routine this summer. But there was nothing pedestrian about what the Botkins High School seniors accomplished the past four months.
Fullenkamp and Brown, both standouts on the Trojans’ cross country team, each tallied 700 miles on the running logs they turned in to Botkins coach Ryan Gutman. That’s an average of 40 miles per week.
The duo pounded the pavement in preparation for the cross country season, of course. Their efforts might have produced additional benefits as well. Fullenkamp and Brown would often see elementary and junior high students mowing the lawn or doing other outdoor tasks.
“Hopefully that’ll get them going,” Fullenkamp said of inspiring the younger kids to run, too.
“When we came into junior high (in the fall of 2015) the high school was pretty good. The high schoolers motivated us. Throughout the past six years I think we’ve all been stepping up every year. The younger kids behind us are following in our steps.”
Expectations are high for a boys’ team coming off a trip to the state meet and a girls team with the potential to join them. The boys team has qualified for state seven times, including last season’s 10th-place finish. That was good enough for third best in program history. The girls have qualified six times, the last coming in 1993. That’s also the last year both boys and girls teams qualified for the state meet in the same season.
“That’s one of our goals,” Gutman said. “They’re not shying away from that. I think you have to aim for state.”
The boys team is paced by seniors Fullenkamp, Brown and R.J. Poeppelman. Joining them are juniors Collin Watterson (an all-Ohio selection last season), Cole Steinke and Shane Weatherhead and sophomores Keaton Schnippel and Carter Pleiman. A freshman class that won every junior high meet they entered includes Parker Schnippel (last season’s Shelby County Athletic League junior high champion), Logan Aufderhaar, Alex Beam, Mark Carducci, Aiden Leugers and Grant Flora.
Watterson, Fullenkamp, Keaton Schnippel, Brown, Steinke and Pleiman competed in the Division III state meet last season.
“We want to go back to state but we know one of the top teams won’t make it out of regionals,” Brown said of a crowded D-III field that also includes defending state champ Cin. Summit Country Day, Cedarville, Anna and Fort Loramie. Four teams qualify from regional to state. “It’ll definitely be a fight this year.”
Those younger students around the village aren’t the only ones motivated by the boys’ team. The Trojans girls also took notice.
“The boys really showed what they can do last year,” said senior and two-time state individual qualifier Emma Koenig.
And now it’s the girls’ turn. Last season low numbers and injuries left the Trojans without the required five runners for a team score at the majority of their meets. Eleven girls are on the team this year.
Seniors Liza Aselage, Kelsie Burmeister, Arica Jutte, Makenna Maurer, Jill Greve and Koenig lead the way. Underclassmen include sophomore Alaina Jutte and freshmen Brittany Arnold (last season’s SCAL junior high champ), Isabelle Koenig, Malanie Maurer and Ava Egbert.
“The whole family aspect,” Makenna Maurer said of her favorite part of this year’s team, which includes three sets of sisters. “It really makes our group come together. Everyone is so close to everybody else. It’s that family aspect of love and support no matter how you do. As long as you give your best effort everyone is there to help bring you back up if your struggling. It’s just a great environment to be in.”
Arnold and Koenig finished 1-2 at the Shelby County Athletic League Preview on Aug. 25. Both boys and girls teams finished second to Fort Loramie in the team standings. Fort Loramie will also be a contender at the girls regional meet along with West Liberty-Salem, Versailles, Madeira and Summit Country Day. Botkins plans to be in the mix for one of those for state spots, too.
“We’ve always kind of struggled to be up there in our league with Fort Loramie,” Koenig said. “They’ve been top in the state and it’s always been a goal to get up there with them or at least close. We came in second at the county preview. Usually we’re third or fourth. You can tell we’re really starting to come together as a team. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to jinx anything …but we’re looking good. As long as we improve from last year, which we already have because we have a team.”
Botkins has a running tradition with those combined 13 state appearances. Competitors come to the program from a variety of sources. Brown played soccer and loved the running aspect. Makenna Maurer finally gave in to the constant urging from her neighbor, who happens to be Gutman. And she convinced Koenig to join her. Greve’s interest started with the village’s fun run.
Even their coach, a 1999 Botkins graduate, started running cross country to get in shape for basketball season. He continued running after gaining the freshman 15, and maybe a little more, in college.
“It looked like a good time and I had a bunch of friends doing it, too,” Poeppelman said of his start in the sport. “I had fun with it so I stayed with it. … (Coach Gutman) helps us to keep positive and have fun with it.”
Added Greve: “Once I started in junior high I just loved the feeling. You can’t replace (the feeling of finishing) with anything else. Just the bonding with your teammates. You’re a family. I started with a fun run and here I am six years later. … I faced not running last year (because of an injury) and it was a bummer. I just wanted to run all season. It’s our last go-around because it’s our senior year but I think we’ll make the most of it, especially with everything that went on (with COVID-19). We’re fortunate to have a season so this is awesome.”