By Josh Brown
CENTERVILLE — Troy’s Kate Pence did her best to remain calm, cool and collected.
Teammate Emma Bryant, however, was having none of that.
“I’m just … I’m so glad. But I’m just trying to stay calm,” Pence said.
“I am not,” Bryant cut in. “I’m really proud of all of us. Oh my gosh.”
The Trojan girls cross country team — ranked No. 7 in the latest OHSAA Division I state poll — had just discovered that it defeated the state’s top-ranked team Centerville to win the Greater Western Ohio Conference overall championship at the GWOC meet Saturday at Centerville High School. Troy, which easily won the GWOC American title, scored 49 points in the overall standings to defeat the runner-up Elks’ 62.
“It feels awesome,” Megan Myers said. “I didn’t really expect it. I think it was my second mile, there was, like, five Centerville girls right in front of me. I passed one of them, but the rest kind of got away, but I was like ‘Okay, we’re this close.’”
“Against traditional powerhouses like Beavercreek, Centerville, Springboro and Tipp — this conference is impressive,” Troy girls coach Kevin Alexander said. “To even be in that mix is exciting. To come out of it on top today just makes it that much more special.
“We knew our girls are capable of running well. Where that placed team-wise, I wasn’t sure. Centerville has a young lady that’s been hurt for a month, she came back and ran today, but I knew she wouldn’t be in the same shape. I knew we’d be competitive, but I wasn’t certain that we would be able to do that.”
Troy was led by junior Morgan Gigandet, who won her second consecutive individual GWOC title win 17:37 — more than a full minute ahead of the second-place finisher, Lebanon’s Jessie Hartman (18:38.3).
And getting that big lead early got in the opposition’s head right away.
“It feels pretty good. It’s nice to know I’m helping my team out,” Gigandet said. “It got a lot warmer today, so that played a big role in the finishing time. But I just wanted to try to kick the ending.
“I feel like I’m right where I should be, but I know that I have to improve. I do like to go out fast, though, and I think it kind of affects some people.”
Sophomore Olivia Tyre turned in a personal best 18:45.4 and finished third overall, and Bryant, a senior transfer from Butler, was seventh in 18:57. Myers was 18th in 19:24.9 and Pence was 20th in 19:36.7 to round out the scoring, with Jenna Zimmerman 24th in 19:45.4 and Emma Shigley 25th in 19:56.3.
“Olivia setting a personal best, Emma Bryant coming on now and getting under 19 (minutes),” Alexander said. “Megan Myers ran a great race. Kate Pence more than held her own. Jenna Zimmerman set a career PR today, and Emma Shigley gutting it out. She kept saying ‘I knew I couldn’t stop for my team.’ Just a competitive, competitive group of young ladies.”
And they don’t want to be done, either.
“We still have more to go, though,” Pence said. “We just have to keep focusing on what we want.”
“Our goal is definitely to win state,” Bryant said. “And then we’re going to go to Nike, and I think we can qualify for Nike Nationals.”
“Especially with our whole team under 20 minutes now,” Pence said.
“Yeah, we have really strong frontrunners,” Bryant said.
And Bryant definitely seems to have found a home with the Trojans.
“I switched from Butler, and it’s so crazy,” she said. “There’s so much love. Everybody’s so nice, and everybody wants to be the best they can be. It’s an amazing atmosphere.”
“And we’re lucky to have her,” Pence said.
The Trojans posted the top three and five of the top seven times in the GWOC American standings, winning the league with 19 points to Tippecanoe’s 42. The Red Devils, ranked No. 2 in the latest D-II state poll, were fifth in the overall GWOC standings with 116 points.
Katie Taylor led the Devils in ninth (19:00.7), Kaili Titley was 13th (19:10.9), MaKenzie Dietz was 21st (19:39.5), Jillian Brown was 35th (20:33.1) and Laura Fink was 38th (20:36.3).
“Abbi Halsey didn’t run today, and she’s kind of been our rock,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “I was a little worried about how the girls would respond without her, but we had some pretty good performances.
“MaKenzie ran a personal best today, Jillian Brown is coming back from an injury and is getting there. Katie Taylor did good for us up front, and Kaili was sick today but ran. I thought if we had everyone here and healthy, we could have gotten up to maybe third. I wanted to see how we stacked up against Beavercreek if we had all our pieces together.”
Now everyone will begin preparing for next week’s district meet — something Alexander knows may have just gotten a bit more difficult.
“Now, it just puts a target on your back. But I think these girls can handle that,” he said. “I know Centerville is going to get better. Centerville will get better. And we just have to try to match that.”
Tippecanoe’s first year in the Greater Western Ohio Conference has been a rough one, physically speaking.
But the banged-up Red Devils still managed to win their first GWOC American league championship Saturday morning at the GWOC cross country meet at Centerville, scoring 42 points in the division race to defeat runner-up Butler’s 62.
“Our No. 1 guy dropped out of the race, our No. 2 guy’s got an injury, too. It’s going to be damage control going into districts,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “Bryce (Conley) has been battling calf problems, only finished three races. He’s frustrated — and he got spiked today. Michael Stearns has a lower-leg injury, we sat him out two days this week. He’s been running awesome.
“One bright spot is that Keenan Fraylick, who missed all summer with a stress fracture, he ran 16:49 and is coming back strong. Ben Jans ran well today, too.”
Fraylick was the Devils’ top finisher, taking 16th (16:49.7). Stearns was 30th (17:14), Jans was 43rd (17:33), Ethan Heitkamp was 51st (17:54.7) and Ethan Sinning was 54th (17:57.3).
“We’ll take it, but we have bigger goals,” Kimmel said. “We want to get back to the state meet, possibly win a district title. We’ve got other things that we want to accomplish, but it is nice to win the league.”
The Troy boys finished third in the GWOC American standings with 87 points.
Freshman Mike Griffith was 36th (17:21.9) and Andy Smith was 49th (17:47.6) to lead the Trojans. Logan Huth was 72nd (18:34.5), Adam Falknor was 74th (18:41.4) and Seth Plantz was 80th (18:53.7).
“They ran really well today,” Troy boys coach Phil Matthews said. “As far as times are concerned, they all ran really well. The weather has definitely been tough to deal with. Compared to last year, it seems so much warmer overall. On hard days, it’s the hottest day of the week, and on days where we want to go easy it’s a little cooler. And on race days, we never know what to expect.
“Freshman Mike Griffith ran really well, Andy Smith is finally looking like himself. And Logan Huth came out of nowhere, was our third runner. Normally he’s our fifth guy.”
Sidney was fourth with 110 points and Piqua fifth with 129, despite Andy Mayse finishing second overall in 16:11.6.
“Competing with Tipp, Butler and Sidney for the top spots in the North. Tipp and Butler have strong teams, so we’re really more fighting for third,” Matthews said. “When you lose a guy like (graduate) Stephen Jones, you lose a top-three spot in every race. But we ran a good race today — and we’re young. Now it’s on to districts.”
In the overall GWOC standings, Tippecanoe was sixth with 194 points, Butler was seventh with 209 and Troy was 11th with 311. Lebanon won with 54 and Centerville was second with 58.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.