|The 2017 high school cross country season starts this weekend|
I know, I know. The first cross country race of 2017 hasn't even been ran yet and I'm already looking at the entire southwest region of Ohio? Well, yes. With only 7-8 regular season meets for most teams in the area, cross country seems like the shortest schedule in all of high school sports. Also, unlike most other fall sports, there are no conference titles to compete for in August and September, so it's all about building up for the October post season.
Racing officially starts this weekend with the OHSAA Preseason Cross Country Invitational in Hebron. This is where the state championships are ran on November 4th and schools from all over Ohio will journey over to National Trail Raceway on Saturday with hopes of running the course again in 11 weeks. On the contrary, most schools from this area of west central Ohio won't attend the OHSAA Preseason Invite and will instead begin their seasons next week with a local meet.
If you're wondering which schools to keep on the radar for the next several months, below are my predictions for the top Division III girls teams in the southwest region.
|Top returners at Ft. Loramie are Danielle Berning and Paige Rethman|
If any team is trending up, it's the Ft. Loramie girls. After making a trip to state last year for the first time since 2013 and finishing 17th out of 20 teams, they return the SCAL Runner of the Year in sophomore Paige Rethman and 1st Team All-SCAL classmate Danielle Berning. Both girls had a tendency last year to lead races early and work off one another. Another sophomore, Hannah Siegel, and senior Jenna Thomas were both 2nd Team All-SCAL last year and could challenge early for the top five positions. The strength of head coach Dennis Prenger's Lady Redskins though will most likely be determined by a dynamic freshman class that includes future stars Danielle Eilerman, Corynn Heitkamp, and Caitlyn Gasson. All that youth means plenty of room for growth and that has to have Ft. Loramie fans optimistic for a big 2017.
|Back from a track injury, Kara Spitzer should lead the Versailles Tigers|
VersaillesThe Lady Tigers have a long history of success in Division III. They won a state title in 2003, were state runner-up in 2004, and captured another title in 2007. In 2015-2016 enrollment numbers bumped the girls up to Division II and that resulted in the first back-to-back seasons of missing the state meet since 1998-1999. Naturally, Versailles fans had to feel excited when it was announced they would return to D-III for 2017. Fans should be more excited about junior Kara Spitzer, who is finally healthy after some injuries cut short her spring track season and she just started practicing recently. After Kara I see seniors Megan Rismiller and Kenia McEldowney, along with junior Liz Watren and sophomore Emma Peters being a core five for head coach Mark Pleiman. Also, I'm keeping my eyes on freshmen Kennedy McEldowney and Lauren Menke who may very well round out the varsity team.
|Paige Boehringer is the new front runner for Covington this year|
Can the Lady Buccs begin the season as a better team than last year after graduating 4-year star Anna Dunn? Impossible, no they can't. Can they put themselves in position by October to advance to their third consecutive state meet, and just the fourth state meet in program history? Definitely, yes they can. Covington has a budding star in junior Paige Boehringer who ran under 20 minutes in four races last year. The can also put three other girls in the 20's with junior Ashlyn Plessinger and seniors Kelsey Dysinger and Danielle Alexander. I believe the rest of the mix includes senior Emma Danmeyer, junior Chelsea Ford, and possibly freshman Allie Garman. I've gathered one thing about head coach Josh Long's teams over the years. They never seem to begin the season on fire, but they're always right where they need to be for the post season. That's good coaching folks.
|Reghan Bieleski of West Liberty-Salem has proven she can run with Ohio's best|
Heading into the 2016 season it was hard for anyone outside of Logan County to imagine West Liberty-Salem advancing to the state meet. That didn't matter to long-time coach Ann Vogel. She built success around an experienced junior in Reghan Bieleski and developed three outstanding freshman in Grace Adams, Lydia Moell, and Payton Umphries, who together led the Big Orange to state for the first time since 2012. Those top four girls are back again this year and it gets even better for West Liberty-Salem fans. I believe two new freshman will have a huge impact in Katelyn Stapleton and Maddie Bahan. Katelyn should even challenge for the #1 spot in my opinion. Throw in junior Lauren Fowler and the Big Orange might be as good as anyone come October.
|Anna Fiessinger and Megan Frazier are part of another talented Russia team|
The Lady Raiders are riding a five year streak of state meet appearances, the longest active streak of any D-III girls team in the region. Head coach Doug Foster returns three 1st-Team All-SCAL finishers in senior Megan Frazier and juniors Claire Meyer and Anna Fiessinger. He also returns a 2nd Team All-SCAL runner in sophomore Clare Caldwell. The key for Russia will be finding that all-important fifth runner and there are 3-4 girls capable of stepping up to fill the spot. One girl I'm anxious to see is incoming freshman Becca Seger, who as an 8th-grader finished runner-up at the SCAL Championships last fall and appears to have a lot of potential. I also look for senior Becky Pinchot, junior Emma Delaet, sophomore Andrea Monnin, and freshman Katelyn Monnin to compete for the top seven. Expectations for the girls program at Russia are high, but then again, that's nothing new.
The five schools mentioned above all have strong traditions in girls cross country and will likely battle for the four state qualifying berths earned at the regional meet in Troy come October 28th. Until then, I plan to enjoy the short regular season one Saturday at a time. Finally, if you could care less about teams and just want to know who the biggest individual stars are, look out for sophomore Addy Engel from Catholic Central in Springfield and junior Karmen Knepp from Bradford. Addy's personal record is 18:41 and Karmen's is 18:44, meaning both girls are not only two of the best in the region, they're also two of the fastest runners in Ohio.
|Addy Engel and Karmen Knepp might be the best in the southwest this season|