Tuesday, August 21, 2012
If you happen to be a fan of Russia boys or girls cross country, this is going to be a fun year. If you're not a fan, now would be a good time. The bandwagon takes off tonight in Russia at the Shelby County Preview and ends, with a little luck, on November 3rd in Hebron at the state meet. Raider fans have more reasons than ever to be excited this season and here's why.
The Russia boys return practically their whole nucleus from last year, having graduated only one senior from their top five scorers. Back from 2011's state qualifying team are Bryan Drees, Steven Stickel, Jordan Gariety, Brandon Barlage, Alex Herron and John Heuing. Those boys, combined with some strong returners from the junior varsity, will push one another to win their fair share of meets throughout season. The Raiders also have a group of fast freshman coming in that you'll be hearing about in the future. There's really not one particular standout among these boys which means you can expect 3-4 different Raiders to cross the finish line first for the team on any given Saturday. The Raiders biggest challenge in the Shelby County Athletic League won't be for a team championship, rather for individual honors. Although Lehman's Joe Fuller will be the favorite in tonight's SCAL preview, the league's top runners include Ft. Loramie senior Jacob Siegel, Anna junior Adam Larger, Botkins junior Roger Miller and any one of the top Raiders. Looking across Ohio however, there are plenty of other D3 teams with better preseason times than Russia - on paper. Locally, Minster and St. Henry will be tough. Last year's state champ McDonald is still loaded, as are familiar names like Seneca East and Columbus Grove. The Russia boys program has made going to the state meet somewhat of a tradition recently. Having run there the last six consecutive years, it's safe to say none of the current runners remember the last time Russia didn't make it to state. Qualifying hasn't been an issue, placing high among the elites has been the bigger challenge. During that six year stretch the Raiders finished a very respectable 3rd in 2007 and 4th in 2008, but the last couple of years have ended with finishes of 12th & 13th. None of those trips or prior appearances have earned a banner on the wall in Clair C Naveau Gymnasium, and that's really the only thing missing from all their success. Is this the season? Time will tell, but the talent is there, and as the season wears on the boys will gain motivation - motivation from the success of their girls team which should be outstanding.
The 2012 Russia girls team may have more depth and talent than any Raider teams in recent history. Like the boys, the girls program lost only one graduating senior from last season. Back this year are senior veterans Lauren Francis and Becca Meyer. Lauren has established herself as one of Ohio's best runners and will be looked upon to lead a lot of young talent for the Raiders. Becca and returning junior teammate Kirsten Voisard regularly battled for the 2nd and 3rd positions last season and, along with Lauren, are the only runners remaining from a memorable 2010 team that finished 5th at the state meet. Sophomores Claudia Monnin, Hannah Bornhorst and Emily Borchers also return from last year's varsity team and will provide some great competition, as well as some new talent that's bound to make a splash. As good as Russia can be, one thing is for sure - this area is loaded. The Raiders don't have to travel far to find another good team in Ft. Loramie. Expect these two schools to duel for the county championship and watch for a fun individual battle between Lauren Francis and Meg Westerheide for the Redskins. Looking at Russia's schedule, they will be tested almost weekly against powerhouses like Minster, Coldwater and West Liberty-Salem, as well as Ft. Loramie. Our bet is that one of those five teams mentioned will be hoisting a state championship trophy in November. Will it be the Raiders? If Russia remains healthy they could be right in it. Minster has already been bit by the injury bug and it's rare for any team to go injury free, but cross country is unique because the regular season doesn't really matter that much - peaking for the post season is what counts. Get ready for a fun season Raider fans.
Note: As we mentioned above, it all starts tonight with the SCAL Preview in Russia Park at 5:00pm. Expect a fan-friendly course that allows spectators to see much of the race, including a challenging hill that high school runners will climb twice! There's also an Elementary Mile fun run taking place after the high school races at approximately 7:00pm. Don't miss this opportunity to see some of the best cross county runners in the state!
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Big Orange runners young and old gather for the BOSS Summer Run
I traveled to Lions Park in West Liberty this past Saturday for the annual BOSS Summer Run. The event is a fundraiser for the West Liberty-Salem cross country program and featured a 1-mile fun run, 2.4 mile race and 10k race. After a summer full of 90 degree heat, the morning temperature was cool and in the 60's. In other words, perfect for running! I figured if I was going to make the 45 minute drive from Russia I might as well attempt the 10k. My 2nd-grade son and 6th-grade daughter chose to run the 2.4 miler. My 9th-grade daughter and wife helped at the finish line.
I'll sum up the course in two words, beautiful and hilly! Both words compliment each other because what made the 10k enjoyable for me was the scenic and rolling countryside of West Liberty. It was much different from the flat rural roads around Russia that I'm used to. I asked the Tigers' top high school boys runner, senior Aaron Scott, if he trained on these same hills. Aaron explained that the team actually trains a few miles away at Ohio Caverns, which has even more hills yet. No wonder the boys and girls teams at West Liberty-Salem are traditionally strong! It was a well run event under the direction of head girls coach Ann Vogel and one race I'll certainly run again in the future.
The BOSS Summer Run is also an opportunity for West Liberty-Salem cross county and track alums to return for a little camaraderie with the high school athletes who have taken their place. I was lucky enough to meet one of their local legends, 1980 alum Earl Zilles. Earl was a key member of the dynasty that won four consecutive state cross county titles from 1976-1979. That dynasty launched the 'Big Orange' nickname for the program under coach Ken Lehman, who then named his shoe store Big Orange Shoe Shop or BOSS! Earl shared some fascinating stories with me about Big Orange history that I felt fortunate to hear from him. It sure made my 45 minute drive from Russia worth the trip!
Earl Zilles also won three state track & field titles in 1979 & 1980