When the Russia Raiders boys and girls cross country teams step to the starting line at the Division III regional championships Saturday, they’ll be surrounded by some of the top teams in Southwest Ohio.
So, basically another Shelby County Athletic Conference meet.
Russia is one of five SCAL boys teams and one of four SCAL girls teams to qualify for the regional meet on the 3.1-mile course that twists and turns along the Troy levee near Hobart Arena. Anna, Botkins, Fort Loramie and Houston also advanced in boys. Anna, Botkins and Fort Loramie qualified in girls.
Jackson Center sophomore Kellen Reichart finished fourth at district to qualify as an individual.
The Versailles girls also qualified in D-III after finishing second at the district meet behind freshman Meredith Barga’s fifth-place finish and senior Mallory Subler’s eight-place effort.
“We’re up against some tough competition with the region being packed,” Russia coach Mark Travis said of a field that also includes defending boys state champ Cincinnati Summit Country Day and girls state runner-up West Liberty-Salem. “It’s the teams you’re pretty much going to see at the top of the state meet in two weeks. It’s tough but it’s good for us. We want tough competition. We want to be pushed. You never know.”
The top four teams (and top 16 individual finishers not on qualifying teams) advance to the state meet on Nov. 7, held for the first time at Fortress Obetz near Columbus.
The SCAL qualified five boys teams and three girls teams last season, with Anna and Botkins advancing to state in boys and Fort Loramie in girls.
D-III runs first with boys at 9 a.m. and girls at 10 a.m. D-II follows with boys at noon and girls at 1 p.m. D-I concludes the meet with boys at 3 p.m. and girls at 4 p.m.
“We knew the competition this season was going to be really steep, especially in the Shelby County League,” Travis said, “knowing Anna, Botkins, Fort Loramie and Houston were returning strong teams as well. We came in having the goal of getting to regionals again. Things were up in the air given the unique nature of the season, but having things fall into place (at district) was what we hoped for.”
The Russia girls have qualified for regional 15 straight seasons and the boys two straight seasons.
Senior Nick Caldwell led Russia with eighth-place overall at last week’s district meet at Cedarville University. Senior Becca Seger led the girls in seventh.
“We definitely see some of the toughest teams on a regular basis,” Travis said of the Raiders’ schedule. “We try to reiterate to the team we’re up against a lot of strong teams and that pushes us, makes us better. We want to compete and run against these teams during the season knowing that’s who we’re going to see come postseason. Doing the best we can is all I can ask for from them.
“We’re looking to do the best we can, maybe beat a team or two we weren’t expected to beat.”
Anna’s boys enter regional ranked No. 9 in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country coaches poll. The Rockets, coming off a district title at Cedarville and individual title with junior Hayden Schmidt, are making their second straight regional appearance.
The girls, ranked No. 13, are also going for the second straight season.
Botkins sends the boys team for the fourth straight season and six out of the last seven. The girls have qualified three of the past four, missing last year. Freshman Brittany Arnold won the Trojans’ first district title since Chloe Flora in 2015.
Fort Loramie’s boys — ranked No. 17 — extended their regional streak to 10 straight after finishing runners-up at district to top-ranked Cedarville. Juniors Colten Gasson and Colin Gasson finished second and third overall.
“Our boys had solid races at district, but we will need to find another level — as does any team this time of year — if it wants to be racing as a team (at state),” Loramie coach Dennis Prenger said. “Whatever teams make it through to next weekend will have earned it.”
The fourth-ranked Redskins girls have qualified at least 17 straight seasons, and likely more, after winning a district title at Cedarville. The team turned in a strong performance with all runners finishing among the top 12 in their race. Junior Claire Rethman finished second and was followed by junior Olivia Borchers (fourth), senior Dani Eilerman (fifth), sophomore Ava Turner (sixth), senior Caitlyn Gasson (10th), senior Corynn Heitkamp (11th) and freshman Collen Borchers (12th).
“This might be one of deepest teams in our programs history,” Prenger said, “and this might be one of the deepest years across the state in Division III.”
Houston’s boys qualified for the sixth straight season, paced by junior Hunter Mowery’s ninth-place finish. The Wildcats grabbed the final spot by two points for a second straight season.
“All of our guys ran great races to make that happen and literally every point counted,” Houston coach Bill McKinney said.
“Five SCAL teams making it to the regional meet is very impressive. It can be tough getting fifth at your league meet and convincing kids we can do well in the postseason. But we know how competitive our league is. I think seeing tough competition every week makes us better as we have to learn to step up and challenge ourselves.”