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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Shelby County girls 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. Below are my opinions on the girls race and I'll follow that up next week with a look at the boys race.

The Russia girls team has a five year winning streak at the Preview

Shelby County has produced some outstanding female runners recently. In the last seven years at least one girl from the SCAL has stood on the podium every year at the State Meet to receive All-Ohio recognition. Of course, the quality of running you see in the post season almost always trumps the running you see at the Preview. Most experienced runners realize it's all about peaking in late October or early November, not August, and it typically takes new freshman several races to get used to high school competition. Therefore, the Preview is a little like a football scrimmage... everyone plays and you're just hoping not to get hurt. Here are a few of the teams and individuals I'm looking forward to seeing in Sidney on the 19th:

The Russia girls have been the school to watch at the Preview for the last five years. Head coach Doug Foster and his Lady Raiders have won the team title every year since 2010 and did it convincingly last year, 23-56 over Ft. Loramie. Gone are Kirsten Voisard and Emilie Frazier to graduation and Russia will also be without the benefit of senior Claudia Monnin, who is still recovering from ACL surgery back in January. Losing those three runners will be an adjustment, but the Lady Raiders still have plenty of strength lead by senior Emily Borchers. Emily finished 2nd at the Preview last year and then won eight out of the next ten races, the only non-wins being 3rd in Tiffin and 7th at the State Meet. On Emily's heels should be junior Lauren Heaton. Lauren is fresh off a state track title this past June in the 400 dash and was the team's #2 runner all of last season. Junior Molly Kearns was a dependable #3 runner last year and I expect another solid season from her after spending time at an Ohio State running camp this summer. Battling it out for Russia's #4 & #5 positions most likely will be sophomore Shea Goubeaux and junior Karissa Voisard. One new runner to watch for is incoming freshman Megan Frazier. Megan won the junior high Preview last year and also took home the SCAL title at the end of the season.

Russia senior Emily Borchers returns to lead the Lady Raiders

Ft. Loramie
Prior to Russia's five year winning streak at the Preview, Ft. Loramie dominated the meet from 2006-2009. Head coach Dennis Prenger will no doubt feel like something is missing this year and that's because gone is Meg Westerheide who graduated after a storied career, including an individual victory at last years Preview. The Lady Redskins also graduated another top five runner on the team in Tara Luebke. The junior class will determine the strength of Ft. Loramie and running up front should be junior Rachel Schmitmeyer who impressed last year with a 5th-place finish at the SCAL Championship. Rachel has shown flashes of being a top runner in the past and reportedly has worked hard over the summer to put herself in position as a team leader. Other key juniors include Claire Kazmaier, Taylor Gasson, Sam Bensman, Melanie Kremer and Makenna Geise. Sophomore Kaitlyn Luebke developed into a nice runner last season and is important for Ft. Loramie to perform well at the Preview and during the season. One thing is for sure, with 23 runners in the program this year, the Lady Redskins have the depth to be successful.

Rachel Schmitmeyer is part of a strong junior class at Ft. Loramie

The Botkins fans will have a lot to look forward to this season. While the graduation of Bethany Christman is a loss from last year, the program has a competitive bunch from seniors down to freshman. The team will be lead by one of the stars in the SCAL, junior Chloe Flora. Chloe finished 4th at last years Preview and was 3rd at the SCAL Championship. Head coach Ryan Gutman told me this week when Chloe showed up for the first day of practice on August 1st he asked her why she was smiling so big. Chloe responded, "it's just so good to be back". Botkins has six seniors and two of those seniors I expect in the top seven for the team at the Preview includes Mackenzie Brown and Tayler Weatherhead. The key to the Lady Trojans might be junior Kayla Hueker. Kayla battled injury last season, but had a big spring in track and could surprise a few people. Another junior I expect to be running varsity is Sarah Knoop. Lastly, it's always hard to predict freshman success, but Coach Gutman has an incoming group that won the junior high SCAL team title last year. I look for freshman Cassie McGowan and Brooklyn Flora to be in the mix at the Preview.

Coach Gutman has built a contender this year with the Lady Trojans

You might see three Lehman runners crack the top ten at this years Preview and two of them shouldn't be a surprise. Head coach Kyle Hermiller has a couple of the best back in sophomore Jenna Zimmerman who finished 5th at last years Preview and junior Caroline Heitmeyer who finished 7th. Both girls ended the season with strong showings at the State Meet. I talked to Coach Hermiller this week and Caroline is looking very fast coming into the early part of the season. Junior Janelle Gravunder is back as well after qualifying for the Regional Meet last year as an individual. Also, sophomore Theresa Schmiesing returns for her second season and brings along her cousin, Clare Schmiesing, who will likely battle each other for the #5 and #6 positions on the team. Finally, I expect big things from incoming freshman Alanna O'Leary. Alanna impressed me last year in junior high as runner-up at the Preview and is capable of a top ten finish this year in my opinion. With no seniors on the Lady Cavaliers roster, Lehman is one team to keep on your radar.

The last time the Lady Rockets made headlines at the Preview was 2006 when Sarah Schulze won the individual title and lead her team to a runner-up finish behind Ft. Loramie. The Anna girls program has good numbers this year, 13 to be exact, and that's a tribute to head coach Dean Stewart. Running up front should be a couple of 2nd-team All-SCAL girls from last year in junior Jennifer Robinson and senior Bonnie Alstaetter. Two other girls I expect in the top five for the team includes juniors Nicole Smith and Jenna Harshbarger. There's also one freshman I believe will score for Anna at the Preview and that's Kara Steinke, who was one of the top junior high runners in the SCAL last season. The Lady Rockets won't make headlines at the Preview this year, but they have a solid team that could show up at the Regional Meet in October.

It wasn't that long ago that Houston had the top female runner at the Preview in Allison Roeth who won back-to-back individual titles in 2010 and 2011. Like last year though, this will be another rebuilding year for the Lady Wildcats program and head coach Joni Dunham. Sophomore Emma Mertz will lead again after being the teams top runner last year. Emma comes into the season strong and healthy from the summer and could compete for a top 15 finish at the Preview. Another sophomore, Kaitlyn Ellison, also returns for her second year of varsity running. Houston will have two new runners this season in junior Brayden Murray, who joins the team for the first time, and freshman Morgan Ely. With only four Lady Wildcats on the roster, the girls won't meet the requirement of five runners for a team score.

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

Top Five Individuals
1. Emily Borchers - Russia
2. Chloe Flora - Botkins
3. Lauren Heaton - Russia
4. Caroline Heitmeyer - Lehman
5. Rachel Schmitmeyer - Ft. Loramie

Top Five Freshman
1. Alanna O'Leary - Lehman
2. Megan Frazier - Russia
3. Cassie McGowan - Botkins
4. Brooklyn Flora - Botkins
5. Kara Steinke - Anna

Fab Freshman - Keep an eye on freshman Megan Frazier of Russia, 
Alanna O'Leary of Lehman and Cassie McGowan of Botkins

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