Cross country teams expecting big things

PREBLE COUNTY — The cross country season got underway last weekend with a pair of schools running in the OHSAA preseason meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. Here’s a look at what the coaches are saying about their teams for the upcoming season.


Coach’s name: Randy McKinney

Number of years as head coach at current school: 34 years boys and 9 years girls

Key Returning Girls:

Senior Katie Bassler is our top returner, we expect to see a lot of strong performances from her this year.

Senior Sasha Taxter is another of the top returning runners which we expect big things from.

Destiny Brubaker is a returning senior who put a lot of miles in this summer, I think she is ready to run some great races this season.

The Eagles have a solid group of returning underclassmen they are going to rely heavily upon to steadily improve during the season with Claire Meyer, Brooke Caplinger, Alexis Owen, Gabby Best, Brianna Baker, Nina Albinus.

“How much these girls work at improving both physically and mentally will determine the height to which the Lady Eagles will soar this season,” McKinney said.

Key Returning Boys

“Senior Tanner Titkemeyer is our top returning runner from last season. How much Tanner improves this season will have a direct impact on how successful the boys will ultimately become during the season. Tanner has tremendous talent, put in a lot of miles this summer and I really look for an outstanding season for him,” McKinney said.

“Senior Steven Cottle is another of our top returning varsity runners from last season. Steve has put a lot of time into his running this summer and has developed a new confidence in his running abilities. Steven, like Tanner, will be a key to the ultimate success of the boys team this fall,” McKinney said.

Cole Bulach, Alex McCarty, Alex Newport, Dylan Suding, LeKendric Brown, Gideon Smith and Todd Coates are all varsity returnees from last season.

“Fair or not the way these guys improve, compete, compete with one another and buy into our program philosophy will determine how far we go into the post season competition,” McKinney said.

Ben Brewer returns this season after a mid-season season ending injury last year.

“Ben has great potential so we just have to keep him healthy. I look for big things from Ben as he gets stronger over the upcoming season,” McKinney said.

McKinney said there are a lot of new faces in the program.

“We have several girls and boys that are new to our high school program. I believe we have several underclassmen for both the girls and boys that should make huge contributions to their respective teams as the season progresses,” he said. “There will be tremendous competition among the girls for our top seven varsity spots. The competition should push each of the girls on the team to really focus and work hard during practice to continually improve.”

McKinney said he is looking forward to this season.

“We have had a god solid summer of conditioning with most of our runners. I look forward to the improvements that I believe our athletes are going to make during the season,” he said. “Both teams are shooting for the opportunity to qualify to the regional championships which is what we have to do to qualify on to the next level. Our schedule will challenge them right from the beginning with some great statewide and state caliber level individuals and teams.”

National Trail

Coach’s name: HS Boys James Byrd, HS Girls Chris Byrd

Number of years as head coach at current school: 9 years both

“The guys have already stepped into the leadership roles that were left with this past years graduating class. They are working as hard as any team we have had and it starts with these top running guys,” James Byrd said.

Returning this year are Josh Bishop, Adam Eyler, Travis Hunt, Ian Miller, Nick Wellman and Jack Weaver.

New this year are a talented group of underclassman. Cameron Harrison, Caleb VanWinkle, Alex Stevens, Nathan Bottoms and Joey Springer are new this season.

“The freshman will have to step up and fill some gaps left by last years graduating class that won 3 out of 4 conference championships,” James Byrd said.

The boys team is looking to win a conference title, compete for District title, and as it is every year a goal of going to state, according to James Byrd.

JaLynn Byrd and Evan Byrd will provide leadership for the girls team.

“These girls are leading this young team well and look to have an exciting year with this group. Their hard work is already paying dividends early on in the practice season,” Chris Byrd said.

But another talented group of underclassman are expected to help the Blazers in their quest for a league title.

“The freshman girls look bolster the teams chances of competing at a much higher level than we have in the last couple. They will be counted on to run some very strong times,” Chris Byrd said.

New this year are Molly Skinner, Lauren Sargeant, Halle Osborne, Jenna Garden, and Lauren Murphy.

The girls team is also hoping to compete for conference championship, advance to regional, and as it is every year it is a goal to make it to state.

“These are some great kids that we get to work with every single day and it should be exciting season for the Blazer Cross Country Family,’ the coaches said.

Twin Valley South

Coaches name: Richie Faber

Number of years as head coach at current school: 9 (15th overall)

“We are a young team this year. I am returning three that are juniors this year and two that are sophomores on the boys’ team,” Faber said.

“Brandan Wright is one of my returning juniors. He ran in the low 18’s as a freshman. After a rough sophomore season, I think he will get back to where he left off as a freshman and get down into the 17’s.

Seth Craft is the second returning junior.

“I think he is headed for a big leap forward this season and get down into the 18’s and maybe lower,” Faber said.

The third junior is Curtis Hittle. “Curtis has shown improvement so far in practice this summer. I expect him to cut a couple of minutes off of his personal best this year,” Faber said.

The two sophomores are Chris Keener and Kyle Saul.

“Chris is coming off of a trip to Columbus which should help him this fall. Kyle has continued to grow. He is definitely faster than a year ago. I think he will be in the 18’s and maybe below,” Faber said.

The Panthers have three freshman.

Tyler Wright and Jon Stewart are moving up from the junior high ranks.

“Tyler has the potential to be a major factor for us this year. Jon also has the potential to factor into our team scoring as a freshman. Both can be very competitive after they adjust to the increased distance,” Faber said.

Justus Craft is the only true rookie this year.

“He has put a lot of work in over the summer. Justus will show a lot of improvement due to his work ethic and will hopefully surprise me a little with how well he can do,” Faber said.

The girls have just four runners to date.

The only junior, Evelyn Woodgeard, is returning after a two year absence to play volleyball.

“Evelyn is someone we have missed having the last couple of years as she did well in junior high and can have a big impact this year if we can get a few more girls to join us.

Faber said his top runner should be Zoe Utsinger.

“Zoe ran in the mid 22’s last year as a freshman and did it in addition to volleyball. After a great track season, she is looking at trying to be in the top ten in the CCC and hopefully make the regional meet,” Faber said.

The two sophomores are Maddyn McQueen and Maggie Johnson.

“Both young ladies will show a lot of improvement this season. Both teams are young. We have no seniors in the program this year. I think that as we grow this season, we will rebound nicely from our graduation losses. I am excited to see what heights the potential reaches this year,” Faber said.

By Eddie Mowen Jr.

Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH