Friday, January 30, 2015

A tale of basketball in Shelby County

The subject of this years Russia Raiders basketball team
started a tale this week that went back 44 years ago

It's funny how one interesting sports story can lead to the next sometimes... I ran into Russia High School basketball fan and former player Henry Cordonnier at the Russia Library this past Saturday. Henry played for the Raiders over 40 years ago and asked my opinion on the current boys basketball team. He wondered if I thought the 2014-2015 team would be remembered with some of the great Russia teams from the past. With this season just a little more than half over, I told Henry time will tell, but I was only familiar with a few of the great Raider teams in recent history.

Henry then proceeded to tell me about an average, but spirited, Russia team he played for in the 1970-1971 season. He said the big rivalry game was Ft. Loramie, just as it is now. Only back then, Henry stated, the fans were even more passionate than today. When the two schools played it wasn't unusual to see Russia fans chewing on heads of cabbage and Ft. Loramie fans carrying into the game all sorts of toy frogs. Both shenanigans in reference to the heritage of their rival opponent. Henry recalled how Ft. Loramie's biggest star was a multi-talented athlete named Randy Schafer (who would later become my high school baseball coach) and Russia countered with a balanced attack in their starting five. In the first of two match-ups that season, the Redskins beat the Raiders on a buzzer beater and afterwards Russia was anxious for revenge at their final meeting played on Russia's home court in Versailles at the time. The second game lived up to the hype as the Raiders sealed a victory with a couple Don Cordonnier free throws in the closing seconds and Ft. Loramie missed a shot at the horn. Russia finished the season just 7-12 overall and 4-8 in the league, but that Ft. Loramie win will always be remembered because it was the Redskins only league loss that year. Henry's tale was an interesting one and I enjoyed hearing a little sports history about a rivalry that still runs strong today.

Statistics from the 1970-1971 season courtesy of 
Shelby County League Basketball 1921-1995 by Bob Wise

Stay with me now as I fast forward a couple days later to Monday... I received an email from my mother in Florida in response to Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks passing away just last Friday. The email included a picture from a newspaper clipping back in 1975 and showed Ernie with some free throw contest winners in Piqua. One of the kids in the picture is a guy named Tony Bornhorst. Tony is a Piqua native and a friend of my parents who graduated high school from Sidney Lehman Catholic and has since enjoyed a lengthy high school basketball coaching career. Tony is also very involved as a basketball camp director for NBA players and Olympians all over the country. Mom couldn't remember, but wondered if Tony was part of the great Lehman team that beat a great Ft. Loramie team back when the Cavaliers and Redskins played at Troy's Hobart Arena. Wait, what? She wasn't positive on the time period, but it was obviously prior to any recollection I had since I was born in 1971. I emailed my mom back and asked her to verify the year and what level of tournament game this was, since it was played in Troy as she stated.

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks on the left and Tony Bornhorst 
is the tall guy in the back row standing next to a basketball 
coach named Al McGuire... yes, that Al McGuire

The next day, Tuesday, mom replied to my email. She contacted Tony and he told her he remembered that game at Hobart Arena, but he was still in school in 1975 and the game took place several years beforehand during the 1970-1971 season. Tony recalled how Lehman and Ft. Loramie were both state-ranked either #1 or #2 in the AP and UPI polls. John Kremer was the Redskins coach and his two biggest stars were Randy Schafer and teammate Tony Winner. The game between the two schools was not a tournament game, rather a regular season match-up that was suppose to be played in Ft. Loramie. Lehman asked if the game could be moved to Hobart since it was expected to be quite a battle. The Redskins did not provide the competition that was expected despite having a tall and talented team and Lehman won easily. The loss frustrated Ft. Loramie fans for many years afterward. My story doesn't end there folks...

One Fish Report reader that I frequently email back and forth is Ft. Loramie alum Dave Boerger. Dave is a retired executive with Ford Motor Company that lives in Michigan, but stays in touch with life back home through the Fish Report website. Dave enjoys local history, as I do, and from time-to-time he will share stories with me. Dave is also a high school classmate of my mother. Here was my opportunity to share a story with Dave, so I forwarded him the email correspondence between mom, Tony and myself. Dave replied almost immediately on Tuesday and said my mom has a good memory! The year was indeed 1971 and he attended that game between Ft. Loramie and Lehman at Hobart Arena. Dave said the attendance was a sell-out and unfortunately the poor performance by the Redskins was really disappointing. Ft. Loramie finished the 1970-1971 season with an impressive overall record of 19-3, but it was unsatisfying to many fans. They lost the Lehman game and later an early tournament game. Oh, and one more game, that one against Russia that started this whole tale. It's funny how one interesting sports story can lead to the next sometimes!

*Follow up note - Shortly after writing this story I ran into Russia's Don Cordonnier and Don verified a lot of the facts above. However, he did add one more fact that may sting some Ft. Loramie fans 44 years later. Remember those game winning free throws Don made to beat the Redskins? Don said when he got fouled by the Ft. Loramie player he was barely touched!

Don and Henry Cordonnier were senior classmates in 1971

Monday, January 19, 2015

Notes and quotes from Flyin' To The Hoop

This was my second straight year attending the #2-ranked basketball showcase event in America called Flyin' To The Hoop at Kettering Fairmont's Trent Arena. I came for the Saturday games starting at 10:00 am, took an extended lunch break in the middle of the day, and stayed until the last game was almost finished around 10:00 pm. Below are a few of my notes and quotes from the day...

Russia basketball fans are the best
Among Saturday's lineup of powerhouse schools that came from other states, there was a list of Ohio schools that included Tri-Village, Centerville, Thurgood Marshall, Franklin, Cincinnati Aiken, and several from the Columbus area. The smallest school, D-IV Russia, beat them all in fan support. Granted, it was the Raiders first time in the prestigious showcase, but it was enough to make event founder and president Eric Horstman smile. I talked to Eric before the 10:00 am Russia game and indeed he was smiling. As he gazed at the crowd he said "I had no idea. Thanks for making me look like a genius."

One Flyin' To The Hoop veteran told me "last year nobody came for the 
10am game." This year Russia filled the stands from top to bottom!

Tri-Village knows how to win 
They're not flashy. All Tri-Village does is find a way to win. I'll admit, I had a tough time believing in this team last year when they finished the regular season 20-1. I thought they played in a weak conference and would go down in tournament to the mighty SCAL or MAC. Then I covered their games as they walloped Ft. Loramie, a loaded Troy Christian team, and Marion Local to advance to the state tournament. This year the Patriots made their debut at Flyin' To The Hoop with an 11-0 record and ranked #2 in the latest AP state poll. I told myself again, they play in a weak conference and aren't really that good. Then I watched Saturday as they beat undefeated and #3-ranked Russia 56-49. Tri-Village played the best defense I've seen all season. They also have two horses named Cook and Linkous with an outstanding point guard in VanWinkle. I spoke to a half dozen Russia fans afterwards who said "if (fill in the blank) would have happened we could have won." They were exactly right. However, Tri-Village found a way to win.

Josh Sagester's teams have 84 victories in the past 3-1/2 seasons.
The only thing they haven't won yet is a state championship!

The pre-game dunk show is ridiculous
Pre-game dunking during warm-ups isn't allowed during the regular season, but it's allowed at Flyin' To The Hoop. It's ridiculous (and that's not slang meaning it's cool). I'll estimate I saw 40-50 players trying to draw attention to themselves with pre-game dunks. I'd probably cringe if I knew how much time they actually spent practicing these dunks back home. How many of them dunked on Saturday in games? Very few. So, you can dribble from half court with nobody guarding you and slam dunk. How about just draining the five foot bunny shot from the baseline when you're being guarded and your team needs two. That will get a bigger roar. 

Best game of the day
The main event was the last game of the day at 8:30 pm, but the best game of the day tipped right before that at 6:45 pm as Prolific Prep (CA) took on La Lumiere (IN). The #1-ranked junior in the country named Josh Jackson, who holds offers from Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan State and Kansas, plays for Prolific Prep and it was clear from warm-ups he was athletic (back to that pre-game dunk show thing again). Josh showcased his talents with 26 hard-earned points. However, La Lumiere countered with an equally talented senior guard named Jalen Coleman who already signed with Illinois. Jalen wasn't as flashy as Josh, but he lead his team with 30 points, including a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. La Lumiere pulled out the exciting win in the end 71-69.

The Luke Kennard show
It was obvious that a majority of the standing-room-only crowd was there to see Franklin High School superstar and future Duke Blue Devil, Luke Kennard. As one guy put it, "I've never seen as much Duke stuff as any single school today at Flyin' To The Hoop." The last game of the day pitted Franklin against Montrose Christian (MD), the high school of last years NBA MVP Kevin Durant. After Montrose Christian fouled Luke twice before he could even set up Franklin's offense on their first possession, it was pretty clear the Mustangs plan was to harass Luke the whole game. In the end Luke went to the charity stripe 40 times and converted 34 free throws, breaking a 41-year old OHSAA record of 28 made free throws. He also finished with 47 points in the 77-75 win to pass Jerry Lucas and Bob Huggins for 10th place on Ohio's all-time career scoring list. 

A sold out crowd filled up Trent Arena to see Luke Kennard. 
Someone even mimicked online ticket sales and sold fake tickets!

Final notes
It simply doesn't get any better for a Saturday of basketball than Flyin' To The Hoop at Trent Arena. Tickets are affordable, every seat is great and I'm entertained all day. I bought my ticket online for $26.31 and had a reserved seat with a back in the 7th row at half court. By comparison, I could have skipped Flyin' To The Hoop, went across town to UD Arena and paid $26.90 from Ticketmaster for a reserved seat with a back in the 400 level to watch the Flyers play Saint Louis. No thanks, I'd rather watch Luke Kennard and the best high school players in the nation... even if I have to put up with their pre-game dunk show!  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Four Things I Want For Christmas

Yesterday on Twitter I noticed the hashtag #FOURThingsIWantForChristmas was trending. I was curious to see what everyone's top four Christmas wishes were. Unfortunately, I was quickly disappointed when I discovered the majority of tweets mentioned the newest cell phones, concert tickets, and worst of all, just plain old money. Pretty shortsighted if you ask me. It got me thinking what four things I want for Christmas. As you can imagine, my wish list pertains exclusively to Ohio high school sports. I know these items won't make it under my tree this Thursday, but perhaps I might receive them by another Christmas in the near future...

#1 - Return football to six divisions
I liked the playoffs better in 2012, back when there were only six divisions. I realize when the sport expanded to seven divisions in 2013 the reason given was to level the playing field in Division I. Fine, we tried it for a couple years, but I don't like it. It just feels a little "watered down" right now. Maybe this years state championship three-peat by the MAC influences my opinion. No need to worry MAC fans, prior to expanding to seven divisions you still won something like 22 conference state titles.

Minster won D-VI this year and also D-V in 1989

#2 - Live video at the state cross county meet
Cross country athletes run 3.1 miles across fields and through woods, so some might argue it's the least spectator-friendly sport out there. I'll estimate that the majority of fans at the state meet can see about 15-20% of the race from the grandstands located around the 3/4 mile mark and finish line of the course. I wish several video cameras could be located at different spots on the course and perhaps on the vehicle that leads the race. The action could then be displayed on a video board in front of the grandstands. You see this at college championships and it would give folks something to cheer about the entire race.

Cross country fans would cheer for a video board like this

#3 - Modernize basketball with a shot clock
The National Federation of State High School Associations doesn't mandate it. It's been talked about for years in Ohio. Several other states use them. I've heard the cons. Some say high school basketball is already exciting enough. Others say training volunteers how to operate them would be difficult. Have you seen some of the scoreboards in gyms today that include player numbers, individual scoring and fouls? I'm confident there are enough intelligent people out there. Let's modernize the sport with the college game like we did with the three-point line in 1987.

Basketball is exciting, unless a team is stalling

#4 - Wood bat baseball
I'm all for technology and keeping current with the times, but when it comes to baseball I'm a traditionalist. I like baseball stirrups and wood bats. The decision in 2012 that all aluminum bats must meet BBCOR testing standards was a good thing. Prior to that, the speed at which the ball was coming off the bat was scary. However, hearing the crack of a wood bat instead of the ping of an aluminum bat would be music to my ears. Think of it this way... have you ever gone to a Cincinnati Reds game and wished they were swinging aluminum bats? I didn't think so.

Good hitters can hit with an aluminum or wood bat

There's my list, #FOURThingsIWantForChristmas. Of course I imagine all those items might be easier with money. On second thought, maybe I want just plain old money too!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Piano Man in Versailles

This past weekend I attended my first-ever concert at BMI Indoor Speedway in Versailles. I picked a good one too, because according to the internet the show I was going to see was "the world's most authentic tribute to the legendary Billy Joel". The official billing was: The Stanger: The Ultimate Billy Joel Tribute Show. I was looking forward to this for a couple reasons. For one, this was a very popular show at House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC, which has been a regular vacation destination of mine. Also, BMI has hosted some major acts in the last couple of years and I'd been wanting to experience this concert venue that's located just a few miles from my home.

The actual Billy Joel imitator was a Long Island native by the name of Mike Santoro. The show website claims that Mike "not only has an uncanny resemblance to Billy Joel, but sounds so much like Joel himself that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference." My skepticism alarm went off... nearly impossible to tell the difference? I actually saw the real Billy Joel back in 1994 in Cincinnati when he was on tour with Elton John. The Piano Man and Rocket Man joined forces to belt out a tremendous playlist of duets and solos that highlighted decades of their hits. It was one of those moments you went home afterward and checked another item off your bucket list. Granted it was 20 years ago and my seat was in the nosebleed section, but I felt I was certainly qualified to decide if this impersonator was legit.

As you can see, my seat for this Billy Joel tribute was better 
than my nosebleed seat for the real Billy Joel in 1994

The tribute show was sponsored in part by Catholic Social Service of the Miami Valley and was booked by a local lady who has seen this act several times. The band included five guys that all traveled up from Charlotte, NC.  I believe at their shows in the Carolina's, like House of Blues, the band might add a few extra back-up singers. At center stage of course is the Piano Man and surrounding him are a drummer, a couple guitar players, and a keyboard player that doubles on the saxophone. The front man, Mike (Billy Joel), even played lead guitar a few times. 

The concert started with the song "Angry Young Man" which is a rousing Billy Joel hit from the 70's that displayed just what kind of piano player we had. Make no mistake, the guy can play piano! It was a great start to the show, but then the band went into several B-side songs that nobody on my table was familiar with. To Mike's credit, he interacted well with the crowd and even asked us if we wanted to hear more B-side stuff. He then went into all the hits, both old and new, including tunes like "My Life", "Just The Way You Are", "We Didn't Start The Fire", "An Innocent Man", "Keeping The Faith" and "New York State of Mind". With about five or six songs left the band broke out "Uptown Girl" and a large part of the audience immediately marched to the dance floor, which had been mostly unoccupied until then. After that, the band played several more hits including "It's Only Rock and Roll to Me" and ultimately the sing-a-long "Piano Man". Interestingly, they ended the night with the Paul McCartney/Beatles hit "Let It Be". 

So, does Mike Santoro resemble a young or old Billy Joel? No, not to me. Does he sound like Billy Joel? Most definitely, both his voice and piano playing. I would recommend the show to anyone, Billy Joel fan or not. Also, unlike that concert I attended in 1994, this show was cheaper than the ticket price back then and the traffic to get home took me all of five minutes.

Mike Santoro (right) might not look like the real Billy Joel
to me, but he could have fooled this Piano Man fan 

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was also excited to experience my first concert at BMI Indoor Speedway. This arena has hosted such acts as Joe Diffe, Quiet Riot, Petra, Winger and Molly Hatchet to name a few. I have to admit, my first impression was that it was a little odd seeing the stage setup in the middle of a banked go-kart track. However, the unique venue created a memorable experience and the folks at BMI did a wonderful job putting it on. Will I go back on Decemeber 6th when BMI hosts a Midget Wrestling event? Uhh, I think I'll stick to the musical acts!

Friday, October 31, 2014

End of a Rivalry

Perhaps a rivalry was born in 2012 when sophomore Sarah Kanney of 
Coldwater took the top spot on the podium that Liberty Center sophomore  
Brittany Atkinson occupied the year before. Brittany is 2nd in this photo.

Individual sports rivalries are pretty unique. It typically takes two elite athletes that dominate their sport and are fortunate enough to compete head to head for an extended length of time. For the rivalry to be legitimate the opponents almost always bring out the best in each other, and if one athlete consistently wins it's usually not considered much of a rivalry.

This Saturday will mark the finale of one truly special high school sports rivalry. Senior cross country runners Sarah Kanney from Coldwater and Brittany Atkinson from Liberty Center will meet for one last time on their sports biggest stage, the OHSAA state cross country course. Over the span of four seasons these two girls have been widely regarded as two of Ohio's best distance runners, and not just in Division III, in all divisions. Their careers against one another have defined what a rivalry is. In 2011 as freshman they met at the regional and state meets. Brittany beat Sarah at both, including winning the state championship. In 2012 as sophomores they met again at the regional and state meets. Sarah beat Brittany at both this time, including winning the state championship. In 2013 as juniors they met for a third time at the regional and state meets. Sarah won the regional, but Brittany won state. In 2014 as seniors they met during the regular season for the first time at the Tiffin Carnival. Sarah ran an eye-popping time of 17:57.87 to win, while Brittany ran a 17:59.78 for second place. The two rivals also met again last Saturday at the regional meet. Sarah won and Brittany finished second. For those keeping score, their record against one another is Sarah 5 - Brittany 3 or Brittany 2 state titles - Sarah 1 state title, depending on how you're counting.

In 2013 both girls ran together for much of the first half of the 
state race. In the end Brittany won her second state title.

I've had the opportunity to meet both runners and both are class acts. Sarah will be heading to NC State after graduation to begin her collegiate running career and Brittany hasn't decided on a college yet, but has six official visits scheduled after the state meet. Until then, high school cross country fans will enjoy one last battle this Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. I'm not predicting who will win this final showdown, but I predict both girls will be running side-by-side as they pass in front of the grandstands for the first time around the 1/2 mile mark. The crowd will come to their feet and the rest of Ohio's best runners will likely be a distant third at that point. Enjoy it folks, it's the end of a rivalry.

With close to 10,000 spectators, the OHSAA State Cross Country 
Championships is one of the largest meets in the nation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Troy Regional Preview

Hundreds of cross country fans will convene on the levee 
bank of the Great Miami River in Troy this Saturday

If by any chance you need to get in touch with me this Saturday morning or early afternoon, I'll be standing on the levee bank of the Great Miami River just south of Troy Memorial Stadium. That's because high school cross country runners from all over southwest Ohio will compete in the Troy Regional with hopes of advancing to the State Tournament the following Saturday. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this day is simply of my favorites of the year. Last year the weather was brutally cold and this Saturday the forecast is near picture perfect. The elements are of little concern to me though, I'll be there rain or shine.

While I have some interest in the Division I and II races, my focus is clearly on the Division III boys and girls. I'll start with my preview of the D-III boys race which starts at 11:00 am. The field will consist of 16 teams and 23 individual qualifiers, which equals 135 runners from 32 schools. Here's a spoiler alert - quit reading this now if you don't want to know how this race ends. Okay, here you go... This will be a huge morning for the boys from Cincinnati Summit Country Day. Their team should dominate in a big way and they're lead by seniors Mason Moore and John Murdock who will likely finish 1-2 in the race. Keep your eye on the clock with Mason Moore. With ideal conditions Mason might threaten the course record of 15:32.7 set by Sam Prakel of Versailles back in 2011.

Last year Mason Moore won in Troy with a 16:11.53
and this year he may challenge the course record

The only real drama will be for the remaining three team spots that advance to state and the individual qualifiers. I see Russia and Anna grabbing two of the team spots. I think Botkins, West Liberty-Salem and Versailles will battle for the final spot. Individuals that finishes in the top 16 will qualify for state as well. Here are some of the local individuals I expect to challenge for the top 16:
  • Richie Ware, Senior - Versailles
  • Joey Adams, Junior - West Liberty-Salem
  • Brady McBride, Junior - Newton
  • Cameron Flora, Junior - Botkins
  • Nate Dunn, Senior - Covington
  • Alex Steiner, Senior - West Liberty-Salem
  • Caleb Ball, Junior - Russia
  • Devon Jester, Senior - Houston
  • Aaron Fullenkamp, Junior - Botkins
  • Joe Spitzer, Freshman - Versailles
  • Tyler McKee, Junior - Anna
  • Lucas Huber, Sophomore - Anna
  • Alex Seger, Sophomore - Russia
  • Tom Ballas, Sophomore - Ft. Loramie

The D-III girls race starts at 1:30 pm. Their field will consist of 16 teams and 17 individuals, which equals 129 runners from 31 schools. Last year the Russia girls won their first regional cross country championship in school history and this year I believe they'll do it again. The Lady Raiders have all the ingredients for a repeat, including a senior leader in Emily Borchers and a couple of veteran juniors in Lauren Heaton and Molly Kearns. If that isn't enough, the trio of freshman Megan Frazier, sophomore Shae Goubeaux, and senior Claudia Monnin all ran season best times last Saturday to bring home a district championship. The next two teams I think will advance to state are Versailles and Xenia Christian. That fourth and final spot should give hope to a lot of schools, but ultimately I believe the CCC champs from Miami East will celebrating a trip to Hebron. 

Expect these three girls in the lead pack early,
which one has the most kick at the end is the question

When I look at the individual competition I see a lot of parity. The course record of 17:51.6 set by Sunni Olding of Minster in 2003 seems ancient and will no doubt survive another year. The big star in this area all season has been Botkins junior Chloe Flora and I expect her to lead early with Purcell Marion senior Kansas Greenwell. West Liberty-Salem's emerging freshman Reghan Bieleski, Russia's Emily Borchers, and Covington sophomore Anna Dunn should also be part of that front pack that may result in a wild ending. Here is my list of local individuals I feel could qualify for state by finishing in the top 16:
  • Chloe Flora, Junior - Botkins
  • Reghan Bieleski, Freshman - West Liberty-Salem
  • Emily Borchers, Senior - Russia
  • Anna Dunn, Sophomore - Covington
  • Megan Frazier, Freshman - Russia
  • Lorenza Savani, Sophomore - Miami East
  • Lauren Heaton, Junior - Russia
  • Madison Grilliot, Junior - Versailles
  • Molly Kearns, Junior - Russia
  • Marie Ewing, Sophomore - Miami East
  • Carly Shell, Junior - Covington
  • Alanna O'Leary, Freshman - Lehman
  • Rachel Schmitmeyer, Junior - Ft. Loramie
  • Lindsey Yingst, Freshman - Miami East
  • Kenia McEldowney, Freshman - Versailles
  • Morgan Ely, Freshman - Houston

There you have it, my regional preview. Now, join me on the levee bank this Saturday and watch the kids prove me wrong! 

Note: If you're a Russia Raiders fan like I am, you're invited to the annual pre-game tailgate party that follows the Russia school buses to Troy. And if you don't follow the buses to Troy, just look for the largest RV in the Troy Memorial Stadium parking lot with all the people dressed in Blue & Gold. A large pot will be cooking chicken noodle soup to be served between the boys race at 11:00 am and the girls race at 1:30 pm. Feel free to bring your own chicken noodle soup to add to the pot and whatever else you like! 
Chicken noodle soup is an annual tailgate tradition 
for Russia fans between the boys and girls races

Friday, August 15, 2014

Shelby County boys preview...

The area high school cross country season is set to start on August 19th with the annual Shelby County Preview. The Preview gives running fans their first look at teams from the Shelby County Athletic League, as well as those from Sidney and Lehman. The rotating role of host school has been given to Sidney this year after Anna previously hosted last year. I gave my opinions last week on the girls race and I'm following that up this week with my opinions on the boys race.

Video highlights of the top five finishers at the 2013 Preview

The colors blue and gold have dominated the Shelby County Preview the last three years. Lehman's Joe Fuller was the top individual runner in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but graduated this past spring after his remarkable accomplishment. During that span the Russia boys team also collected three titles with what seems like an endless supply of really good runners. Who might win this year and will those dominating school colors change? Below is my preview of some of the individuals and teams I'll be watching in Sidney on the 19th.

You can't blame the Russia boys if they come into the Preview feeling confident. After all, they've won the team title seven of the last eight years with the only blip being 2010 when they finished runner-up. The Raiders lost a couple of their top seniors from last season in Bryan Drees and Steven Stickel, but the cupboard is still full for head coach Doug Foster. For starters, back is junior Caleb Ball who finished 11th at the Preview last year and then made folks take notice when he won the SCAL title at the end of the season. Caleb likely will be running stride for stride with his senior teammate, Jordan Gariety, a 4th-place finisher at the Preview last year who is very capable of having a big season. Battling for the other five varsity spots in my opinion will be a host of Raiders, including senior Alex Herron, junior Trevor Monnin, and sophomores Alex Seger, Ethan Monnier, Kevin Drees and Drew Sherman. Also, keep your eye on freshman Zachary Bell who was one of the top 8th-graders in the area last year. Russia is in position to win another Preview this year and, if they stay healthy, return to the State Meet for the ninth consecutive year.

Expect Russia's Jordan Gariety and Caleb Ball to push each other

It's always nice when you can return a few of your top runners. Botkins head coach Ryan Gutman returns more than a few after finishing runner-up to Russia last year at the Preview by just 11 points. It starts with the 1-2 punch of senior Austin Jones and junior Cameron Flora. Austin finished 3rd at the Preview last year before fighting through a nagging IT band injury that ended his season at the Regional Meet. Cameron finished 7th at the Preview and later ran at the State Meet as the lone Botkins boy. Austin and Cameron have been doing everything together in the pre-season according to their coach and are on course for fantastic years. The Trojans #3 runner I believe will be junior Aaron Fullenkamp with senior Reid Manger not far behind. Botkins has a deep program this year and points can be scored by a number of boys. Two Trojans to keep on your radar include junior Jared Goubeaux and incoming freshman Austin Fullenkamp. Jared was injured last year and may surprise some people this season, and Austin finished runner-up at the junior high Preview last year. All said, Botkins has a legitimate shot to win the Preview.

Botkins' Austin Jones was the fastest in the junior class at the 2013 Preview

While Anna graduated some big-time talent in Corey Abbot, Adam Larger and Derek Steinke, there's a tradition of cross country success with Dean Stewart's Rockets that always makes them a factor. Leading the team this year will no doubt be senior Luke Gaier. Luke has historically started the season slow, but then comes on strong at the end. Proof of this was his 9th-place finish at the Preview last year followed by a superb 2nd-place finish at the SCAL Championship. Another senior I'm expecting to make a big impact after battling some health issues last fall is Jonathan Berning. Jonathan and Luke were on the same 4x800 relay team this spring that finished 10th at the State Track Meet. If you're looking for a rising star in the Rockets program, they might have one in sophomore Lucas Huber who reportedly had a very good summer of training. Finally, Coach Stewart will need sophomores Brad Axe and Joel Gaier to score points if Anna is going to be competitive this season.

Ft. Loramie
It's taken the Ft. Loramie boys a while to re-establish their cross country program since the inception of football almost ten years ago, but head coach Dennis Prenger has a foundation built for the Redskins to experience success someday really soon. This years team will be lead by the youth of sophomore Tom Ballas. Tom had a fantastic freshman year, but he's also his own toughest critic, so he increased his summer mileage considerably and I expect a big improvement from his 12th-place finish at last years Preview. Senior runners on the team include Caleb Hoelscher, Tom Meyer and Ty Frilling who will all provide different kinds of leadership. The underclassman are key for Ft. Loramie to be successful in my opinion. Juniors Riley Holland and John Chaney have matured and will be counted on to step up this season and score points. Another runner with a ton of potential that could develop this year is sophomore Alan Holdheide. There are 13 boys in the program, including some additional talent in the sophomore and freshman classes. Look for this group to start making the Redskins significant again.

Third-year Sidney coach Ken Kellner had two Yellow Jackets swarming the front of the pack at the Preview last year in Chris Musser and Jared Tangeman. Chris finished an impressive 2nd-place and was my immediate pick to win it all this year. Unfortunately, he ended his track season this spring with knee surgery and was told he would never run again. Chris, like a lot of top runners, apparently didn't like being told "never" and is in the process of a comeback. While the junior is running strong right now according to his coach, he will be a question mark as the season unfolds. Jared, on the other hand, appears in top form. The senior is poised to have a big year after clocking a blazing 15:48 this summer during his last 5K road race. With that kind of performance Jared is more than capable of winning the Preview. The rest of the Yellow Jackets runners will need to do their part for Sidney to perform well as a team.

One guy that's been steadily improving each year at the Preview since his freshman season is Houston senior star Devon Jester. As a freshman he finished 18th, his sophomore year he was 9th, and last year he finished 8th. This week head coach Joni Dunham told me Devon is running as strong as ever coming into the season and would like nothing more than to return to the State Meet again in November. A couple of other returning juniors who are battling injuries right now and won't be up to full speed for the Preview are Troy Riley and Azen Reier. Troy recently had surgery on his calf and Azen is dealing with a stress fracture. Incoming freshman Dakota Francis ran well last year in junior high and will be the fourth and final Wildcat. With just four boys on the roster Houston will not be eligible to place as a team.

Senior Devon Jester worked hard over the summer to make this fall memorable

Last year at the Preview, Fairlawn fielded the required five runners to qualify for a team score. This year there is only one full-time runner, but he's a good one. Junior Troy Fletcher returns for his third season and will run for first-year head coach Chris North, who takes over both the high school and junior high program. Last year Troy made huge strides from the beginning of the season to the end. At the Preview on Anna's course he ran a 21:18 and later followed that up at the SCAL Championship on the same course with a 19:12. Troy came into practice in great shape after running all summer according to his coach and could be running in the 18:00's this season. Fairlawn will also get some part-time running help from sophomore Nick Brautigam who is playing multiple sports, but is expected to participate in approximately four meets.

Fish Report's Preview Predictions
Top Five Teams
1. Russia
2. Botkins
3. Anna
4. Ft. Loramie
5. Sidney

Top Five Individuals
1. Jared Tangeman - Sidney
2. Caleb Ball - Russia
3. Austin Jones - Botkins
4. Luke Gaier - Anna
5. Devon Jester - Houston

Top Five Freshman
1. Austin Fullenkamp - Botkins
2. Zachary Bell - Russia
3. Collin Luthman - Ft. Loramie
4. Noah Siegel - Ft. Loramie
5. Jay Kacin - Ft. Loramie

To see results of the Shelby County Preview from 2006-Present, click here!

Course maps for Tuesday's Shelby County Preview at Sidney:  High School / Junior High