By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — It’s not that the Tippecanoe boys cross country team wants to forget what they did last year.
They just want to do it again.
And with so many athletes returning from the Red Devils’ Division II state championship team — including senior Mitchell Poynter, who finished third individually last year — there’s no reason to think that they won’t be able to win it all again if properly motivated.
“What I did, at our annual spring meeting, I told all of the kids to bring their state championship rings from last year,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “I brought in a fireproof lockbox, I put them all in it and locked it up. They’re not allowed to wear them until the season is over. I also forbid any state championship T-shirts or paraphenalia of any kind.
“We’re starting over. We want to be in the mindset that we have nothing. We want to be just as hungry as we were last year.”
Tippecanoe brings back six of its top eight runners from last year. Poynter is chief among them, finishing third at state cross country and then third in the 1,600 at state track as a junior. Also back is Jacob Stillwagon, Spencer Ranft, Jordan Brown and Thomas Cheney. Cheney was an alternate to run at state last season, and he’s already breaking the 17-minute mark this season. In fact, Tipp’s top five runners all ran sub-17-minute times at a recent road race.
The Devils will also have a transfer from Tri-Village become eligible at the mid-season mark in Keenan Fralich, and juniors Sam Brumfield and Michael Stearns will compete for spots, as well.
Tippecanoe’s varsity runners likely won’t see action until the Alliance Invitational a few weeks into the season, though, as Kimmel both preps them for the state run and wants to get a look at his future.
“We’ve been training harder, so I’m not racing my varsity team for the first three weeks,” he said. “We’ll probably drop in the polls, but we don’t care. Last year, we sat them out the first two weeks, and it worked well. I want to make sure they’re performing at the end of the season. And also, I’ve got so many seniors and I want to see what we have next year. So that plan is two-fold.”
But the goal is the same — a repeat.
“John Wooden said ‘Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character,” Kimmel said. “We’re going to see how much of that we have this year.”
Philip Matthews, who has been with the Trojans since 2012, takes over the head coaching role at Troy this season — and he has a strong group of seniors to help with the transition.
Stephen Jones returns looking to qualify for the Division I state meet for the third straight season, and he’s joined by fellow seniors Parker Hench and Carson Clouser. Junior Pete Sheehan and sophomores Adam Falknor and Andy Smith help add depth to the team.
“This year’s squad brings back strong senior leadership in Jones, Clouser and Hench,” Matthews said. “There are many new faces in the program this year, and the talent and experience of these seniors sets the example for all the rookies. We will be counting on that throughout the season.”
The Milton-Union Bulldogs are aiming at a sixth straight Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division championship this season — but in addition to that, they’re looking to make a deep postseason run, deeper than they might have been able to make in the past, thanks to dropping down to Division III.
“We’ve won the league title five years in a row, so we’re looking to defend. But we also want to make a solid run at state,” Milton-Union coach Michael Meredith said. “We missed the D-II regional by just a little bit last year. The kids know they have a great opportunity this season.”
Will Brock, who was the SWBL individual champ as a freshman last year, returns, as does junior Colton Grauman, who also won as a freshman but was hurt last season. Seniors River Spicer and Luke Ferguson, as well as Shannon Milnickel and Liam Godin, return, as well, as the team boasts 19 runners this year.
* Miami East
Miami East coach Alan Russel, in his seventh season with the team, is hoping to improve on last year’s Cross County Conference finish with a solid group of returning runners.
Senior Ben Marlow, Hunter Sharp and Brandon Mack return, as do juniors Luke Mengos and Justin DeWeese and sophomores Jacob Goins and Jackson Tucker.
“We have a good group of young men coming back this year,” Russell said. “This group will be matched with an influx of several highly-talented new runners to our program. The group, new and returning, has put in more miles during this summer than previous summers. I think we can continue to improve this year and hopefully improve on our finish at the league meet.”
Retuning state qualifier Brady McBride returns to lead a Newton team that saw plenty of postseason success — and wants to see more.
Joining McBride will be seniors Brett Sullivan and Atley King, as well as sophomores Tristen Benedict and Cody Skilling. Freshmen Ryan Mollette and Charlie Walker will add depth.
“Last year, this group of guys made it to regionals for the first time in our school’s history,” Newton coach Tiffany McBride said. “The team worked very hard at track season and all posted PR’s. With everyone returning and the addition of two very good freshman our team will make a very strong showing in our league.”
Covington graduated some top-level talent last season, but the Buccaneers return a number of quality runners this year.
Looking to the lead the way for the Buccaneers this year will be returning runners Hunter Brumbaugh, Mark Barga, Mason Dilley, Jared Ford, Ryan Ford, Dylan Kelly, Tanner Kimmel, Nate Lyle, Conner Ryan, and Josh Sowers. Boys new to the team this year include Ashby Rench, Steven Shane and Tyler Travers.
“They have all worked extremely hard this summer, so it is going to be a lot of fun to see how much this group has improved from last year,” Long said.
* Troy Christian
Troy Christian has a young team again this season, but with last year’s young runners getting a year of experience, the Eagles will look to continue moving forward.
Sophomore Zach Davidson is back from last year to guide a talented freshman class. In fact, freshmen Nick Pratt and Isaac Flora will be able to push Davidson, according to coach Jeff McDaniel.
“With our young freshmen and sophomores, we still have some developing to do,” McDaniel said. ‘I expect to see a tight pack of runners as these guys work together.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.