By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — Most teams would love to have at least one state-experienced runner coming back.
Not only does Troy have one, he’s only a junior this season.
Stephen Jones returns fresh off a year where he ran 16:37 and finished 70th at the Division I state meet as a sophomore, but with only two other truly experienced varsity runners returning this season, the Trojans still are unsure just who their top seven runners will be.
Still, it’s hard to question who the top one will be.
“Stephen will be our top runner, and he just had a phenomenal year last year,” Troy boys cross country coach Bob Campbell said. “He’s really talented. But probably one of the toughest things for us this year having someone like Stephen will be, with him up at the front of every race going up against the best, that’s fine in a big invitational race with 100 or more runners. But in the (Greater Western Ohio Conference) North race, you’re probably only looking at 35 runners. Getting first, that one point, doesn’t carry the same weight when, say, Butler is getting three guys in the top 10.
“Stephen can’t get better than first.”
Still, the Trojans will have help as seniors Troy Schultz and Josh Spayde return.
“Josh and Troy have been with us since the seventh grade,” Campbell said. “The younger guys all look up to them, and they’re good leaders.
“After those three guys, though, have have six guys fighting for the other four spots — which is good. The competition between them is good. But there’s quite a big difference, about 90 seconds, between Josh’s best time from last year and the next guy down the line’s best time. In cross country, that’s a giant gap.”
Seniors Connor Huth and Dylan Magoto and juniors Parker Hench and Carter Clouser look like they’ve got the inside track for varsity spots at the moment, but sophomore Pete Sheehan and freshman Adam Falknor are pushing them hard. And senior Alec Prus is back, as well, although a nagging injury will keep him out early.
“He’s had lower leg troubles every year he’s run cross country,” Campbell said. “He ran pretty well during track season last spring, but he’s hurt again right now. We’ve got him riding the bike, and we’re hoping that by the end of the year he can help us out some.”
And with the GWOC North being packed with quality teams, the Trojans will need help if they want to improve on their runner-up finish from last season.
“Butler has to be the favorite right now, they’ve just got so many guys back,” Campbell said. “But Greenville has two guys in the 16s, which is what you look for on a good team, and some young guys in the 18s. They’re going to be tough. Sidney has two good guys and some young guys, and they’re going to be tough, too.
“I think it will be a dogfight. It’ll be a matter of who can stay healthy and be ready to run the Saturday of the GWOC meet — but it’s going to be a tall task for us.”
Troy starts the season Friday under the lights at Kings Island for the Moeller Invitational.
Last year’s team runner-up finish at the Division II state meet will be a hard act to follow — particularly with the loss of captain Jay Schairbaum — but with a lot of runner returning, including a regional champion, Tippecanoe looks like it has the chance to do just that.
Junior Mitchell Poynter returns after winning the regional race last year, and he and senior Daniel Frame will be a tough one-two punch for the Devils. Beyond them, 12 runners on the squad ran times under 18 minutes last year, including juniors Tim Andrews, Jordan Brown, Thomas Chaney, Spencer Ranft and Sam Brumfield and seniors Jared Rindler, Michael Taylor and Evan Wharton.
“Those guys make this the deepest team in school history,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “It will be difficult to top last year, as we won the Central Buckeye Conference, district and regional championships and topped it off with a runner-up finish at the D-II state race.”
The Milton-Union Bulldogs boast a strong group of returning runners and will be shooting for a fifth consecutive Southwestern Buckeye League championship this season.
“I feel like we have a strong enough team to compete at a high level,” Milton-Union coach Michael Meredith said. “We have won four straight league title and will work hard to defend our titles.
“The main goal is to work hard on racing big in big races, compete for a spot at the regional championship to get to state.”
Senior Kyle Swartz and juniors Luke Ferguson and River Spicer will lead the way, with sophomores Colton Graumen and Cody Sauser helping to lead a large group of freshmen that will look to contribute, as well.
* Miami East
With a group of five returning letterwinners from last year’s squad that finished third in the Cross County Conference, Miami East is looking to have a strong cross country season this fall and compete for the league title once again.
“This team has the talent to have a terrific season this year,” sixth-year Miami East coach Alan Russell said. “They will have to stay focused and work hard to achieve it, but the potential is there for this team to have some big performances.”
Senior Mat Amheiser leads the group of Viking returners along with juniors Brandon Mack, Ben Marlow and Hunter Sharp and sophomore Luke Mengos.
“The boys finished third at the CCC league meet a season ago, and we’re hoping to improve on that performance this year,” Russell said. “National Trail and Covington finished ahead of our squad, and I feel like all three of our teams will again have a strong season.”
With junior regional qualifier Brady McBride and fellow junior Brett Sullivan returning this season, the Newton Indians will look to improve on last year — if for no other reason than they will be fielding a full team.
Junior Atley King joins the team along with sophomore Noah Williams and freshmen Tristen Benedict and Cody Skilling.
“We’ll be fielding a full boys team after not being able to last year,” Newton coach Tiffany McBride said. “Brady and Brett will be the leaders, with each running solid times and in summer training sessions. Brady has been a good runner during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, making it to the regional both years. We anticipate he will improve off of those fine efforts.
“Atley brings long distance running experience from track season, with competitive times in the 3,200. Cody and Tristen bring competitive running experience from last year’s junior high team, and Noah ran at Franklin Monroe last year and will be a nice addition to the team at mid-season.”
Bethel’s team is young this season, but with junior high Cross County Conference champion Korry Hamlin joining the squad as a freshman — and only one senior amongst the returners from last year — the Bees’ future looks bright.
Senior Jacob Smith, juniors Chase Heck, Benton Wright and Sam and Brian Pencil and sophomores Brandon Gilbert and Jacob Vantilburg all return as leterwinners from last year, with juniors Coleman Clark, Bradley McCarroll and Joel Ricker and freshman Hamlin, Max Schell and Connor Whelan joining the team.
“The boys are looking to improve from last season, and they will be led by freshman Korry Hamlin, who was the CCC junior high champion last season,” Bethel coach Mark Clute said. “The boys have been working hard all summer and hope to run strong this season. We have very good numbers and only one senior, so we hope that this is a start to the future.”
* Troy Christian
The Troy Christian Eagles will be younger than usual this season, but freshman Zach Davidson is coming off of a strong track season in the spring and is ready to lead the way.
“Zach is ready to go after the high school’s 5K distance,” Troy Christian coach Jeff McDaniel said. “He has been training well but knows he is lacking in experience at this distance.
“Our boys team is made up of six freshmen who are eager to run. Most of these boys have been together since the seventh grade and will push each other.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.