The Shelby County boys are back again. Last season a record-setting three teams from the Shelby County League advanced to the Division 3 boys state cross-country championship. In remarkable back-to-back fashion that accomplishment was duplicated again this year.
Anna, Fort Loramie and Botkins picked-up three of the four qualifying spots this past weekend in the regional meet. The league narrowly missed out on four teams advancing to State as Russia saw their amazing streak of nine straight berths end by finishing just a spot away. All three coaches emphasized the strength in Shelby County.
“It is still hard to fathom how strong our league is. It’s not like a lot of leagues that encompass multiple counties. This is a league of seven schools in one county. With more than half of the schools among the smallest in the state,” said Anna coach Dean Stewart.
“I’ve been coaching for 21 years and this is by far the most competitive the league has been in those years. Just look at the league meet times, those times were crazy. I think it shows that we have great athletes and really good coaches that have built solid programs. Competition makes you better, and I think all the league teams and individuals will represent the league well at state,” said Loramie’s Dennis Prenger.
“Sending three teams is really remarkable. We also had four of the top 5 fivei n the region. I don’t think there is another league that can come close to that. You have to give the credit to the kids. They have to take to the coaching. They have to prepare themselves and make sacrifices throughout the season. Our area is blessed with good, hard-working athletes,” said Botkins coach Ryan Gutman.
The state meet is Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
The Rockets roll into the state meet for the third consecutive year and with plenty of momentum after capturing the regional championship last weekend. The regional is the first for Stewart and his Rockets since 1995.
“Since Anna added football, we have struggled to get kids out. We have gone through periods since we added football where we will get two classes with four or five kids in a class, and are able to ride those groups to success. The current juniors and seniors are one of those groups,” he said.
Junior Lucas Huber is the lead runner for the Rockets and according to Stewart continues to do more so he can continue to improve.
“He has realized that it is as much about the process as it is the outcome. Very team focused, which you do not always find in your top runner,” said Stewart of Huber.
Senior Tyler McKee is considered a natural runner with the ability to deliver when required. “Tyler always seems to get it done when it has to be done. Always seems to be in the moment, staying steady” explained Stewart.
Junior Joel Gaier is considered a study of running for the Rockets.
“His biggest asset is analyzing himself and making adjustments. He is always talking to me about how a race went and were he needed to be tougher. He then applies what he has experienced to his next workouts and races,” said Stewart.
Senior Korash Assani has developed into a strong runner for the Rockets this year.
“This year he has just started running with no fear. He wants to be there for the team, so he just runs all out, focusing on improving each practice, each race,” said Stewart.
Junior Bradley Axe rounds out the scoring for Anna and is considered another runner who studies the sport.
“He knows what a good runner should look like, and should do to get better. He asks questions, then always tries to apply the information to his running. His uncle was a member of our two state championship teams,” said Stewart.
Peaking at the right time is critical in distance running and the Rockets appear to be hitting their stride when it matters most.
The storyline around Fort Loramie is the Redskins’ return to state. Loramie has a rich history in boys’ cross country with this year’s team marking the 12th visit to the state meet. However, this year marks the first qualifying team since back in 2006 when football was starting at Loramie.
“Our only senior (Riley Holland) was in fourth grade then and is likely the only runner on our team that remembers that season because his older brother (John) was a runner on the team. Between 1998 and 2006 the boys went to state eight times. It was expected, we knew when football started it would be a challenge, and it was but maybe that is what makes this even more special,” said Prenger.
Some years it was a challenge to field a full team, let alone the type of competition it takes to make it to state.
“In recent years I could see the direction the program was headed and I knew we weren’t far from getting back to the state level. Now the challenge is to sustain the momentum, and get the program back to the point where we have more runners and we can compete year after year,” said Prenger.
The Redskins are led by Jake Rethman, who as a freshman has already come within two seconds of the school record of 16:10 set by Mitch Meinderding.
The remaining runners in the top five all return next year as well including junior Tom Ballas who Prenger says has benefited from Jake’s presence.
“Tom has developed a more balanced approach this year. He is a more complete runner,” said Prenger.
Freshman Joe Ballas has put together an impressive year as well and has benefitted from having both Jake and Tom around.
“He had his best race of the season on Saturday. It was not a PR (personal record) but his best race considering what was at stake,” said Prenger.
Rounding out the scoring for Loramie is sophomore Noah Siegel and junior Alan Holdheide.
“Noah and Alan are the keys to what we do. The front runners are great, but without these two closing the deal we aren’t the team that we are. They’ve worked hard to close the gap and keep the pack time as tight as they can, and the same can be said for Riley Holland, Collin Luthman and our first alternate Gavin Schulze. It’s a team thing,” said Prenger.
Back-to-Back. The Trojans return to state for the second consecutive year under head coach Ryan Gutman.
“The last time a boys team made back to back state trips was 1992 and 1993. It was such a regular experience back then. I’m not sure people realized how special it was. As a fan of Botkins and a lifelong resident, it is a joy for me to be a part of something like this,” said Gutman.
Often times trips to the state meet are earned in the summer when base miles are piled up and not necessarily just in the fall when the season is underway.
“It proves to them that hard work pays off,” said Gutman of the state meet. “When it’s summer and it’s hot and they are choosing to run, that ultimately will help make them successful.
The Trojans are a seasoned group this year – featuring a roster of runners with experience in big races.
Botkins is led by a pair of sturdy seniors in Aaron Fullenkamp and Cameron Flora.
Fullenkamp has produced an outstanding senior season.
“He is a true racer. I’ve never seen a race that is too big for him. He always has a goal in mind,” said Gutman.
Flora has delivered a number of clutch races throughout his career and is considered ‘Mr. Consistency’ by his coach.
“You never have to question his effort. The team seems to feed off his energy before races,” said Gutman.
Sophomore Austin Fullenkamp runs in the three spot for the Trojans and shows plenty of promise for the future.
“He is so dedicated to becoming the next great Botkins runner. Shows constant, consistent improvement throughout the course of the season,” said the Botkins coach.
Classmate Matthew Prout has developed into what his coach considers to be a mature runner.
“He realizes how important running is to him and how important he is to our team,” said Gutman.
Senior Ryan Egbert was the fifth runner last week and is in the process of capping off a strong year.
“Stellar senior season. His improvement this year was remarkable,” said the Botkins coach of Egbert.