By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — Tippecanoe cross country coach Byron Kimmel entered the season with a plan.
Now, the day before the regional meet and the week before state, how has that plan turned out?
“This weekend will be a pretty good indicator,” he said. “The last few years, we’ve peaked well at state. It’s hard to say until that final day, though.”
Before worrying about repeating as state champions or trying to win their first, though, Tippecanoe’s boys and girls teams will both have to focus on performing this weekend at the regional cross country meet on the levee in Troy, as will every other Miami County team and runner with state aspirations.
That group includes the Troy girls, who won the Division I district title handily last weekend. Led by a trio of then-freshmen, the Trojans finished fifth last season, missing a trip to state as a team by a mere 11 points. They’re hoping to change that this year — but they know the competition will be tough.
“Centerville didn’t run its top seven at district, so this weekend will look a little different,” Troy coach Kevin Alexander said. “They’re No. 1 in the state for a reason. Centerville and Mason are one-two in the state, Beavercreek’s a top 10 team, throw in both Lakota East and West, Turpin … and with all of that, our girls have as good a chance if not better of getting out as we did last year. Were it not for an illness, we would’ve made it out then.”
The Trojans, ranked No. 5 in the state themselves, have been coping with injuries throughout this season, also, though they’re beginning to get back to full strength. Senior Rachel Davidson and sophomore Emma Shigley have both missed plenty of time this year, but they were back in the lineup at district, with Shigley turning in a top-10 finish. And with them hurt early in the year, Troy’s other young runners had to step up — and they did and continue to do so.
“Having Emma and Rachel back has really boosted us in the standings the last couple weeks,” Alexander said. “And the other girls have done real well this year. Megan Myers has grown by leaps and bounds from last year, and freshman Kate Pence has stepped in and continued to progress throughout the year. Olivia Tyre is a complete newcomer to the sport, and even though Megan Studebaker is a junior, this is really her first year running since she missed last year with an injury.
“Despite the level the team’s performed at, there really are a lot of new faces.”
And, as last year, they’re being led by Morgan Gigandet.
The Trojan sophomore has broken the Troy High School record twice this season, three times running a sub-18-minute time. Last year, she ran 19-plus-minute times at the regional and state meets, but this season she’s favored to compete for the title. She’s held her own against last year’s returning champions and contenders numerous times, solidifying her position as a contender herself.
In fact, she beat the reigning state champion, Centerville’s Lainey Studebaker, at the GWOC meet, breaking her own Troy High School record with a time of 17:26.59 to Studebaker’s 18:19.19. Earlier in the season at Centerville’s Night Lights meet, Studebaker won with a 17:33.36 to Gigandet’s 17:44.6.
“She’s going to get a good race Saturday,” Alexander said. “Studebaker’s going to be right there with her. They’ve gone head-to-head three times now. They’ve got contrasting styles. We’ll see who gets the best of who this time, but at the regional, they’ll both run a great race.”
And on the boys side, senior Stephen Jones — the only Troy regional qualifier this season — will be looking to qualify for state for the third straight year. He was the district runner-up last week and placed 24th at state last season.
The Red Devil boys, meanwhile, already know what it’s like to win a D-II state championship, having claimed the school’s first last season.
And with the potential of repeating a very real possibility, coach Kimmel held his varsity runners out for the first half of the season, a plan that seems to have paid off.
“It’s gone pretty well,” Kimmel said. “It’s hard to tell for sure since we haven’t had very good weather or the time to evaluate what fitness level everyone’s at. But I set goals for everyone at the beginning of the season, and they’ve all surpassed where we thought they’d be at. We’ve had people run much better than they did last year already. We’ve progressed more than we thought we would.”
Tipp’s boys were ranked second in the state in the final coaches’ poll, and the Red Devil girls were ranked third. They’re favored to place at state — but first things first, they’ve got to get there.
“Times around the state have improved a lot from last year, too,” Kimmel said. “This is one of the fastest years in general I’ve ever seen, especially on the girls side. But from what I’ve seen, I think (the plan) will put us in position to run our best race at state.”
Senior Mitchell Poynter, who was third individually at state last season, won the district title easily and is hoping to contend for an individual championship himself. But on the girls’ side, the Devils won the district title without the benefit of an individual champion, much as they have all season.
“It’s really been a pack attack, and it’s been so tight,” Kimmel said. “At the conference meet, we went from about 19:08 to 19:30. We knew the girls potentially could be a top-five team coming into the preseason, but they’ve surpassed everything we thought they could do. And the way they train, they push each other since it’s such a tight pack. Their workouts are intense.”
The Milton-Union boys, meanwhile, are poised to make some noise in the D-III race. Currently ranked No. 14 in the state, the Bulldogs were the district runners-up last week, led by Will Brock with a third-place finish. Newton’s Brady McBride won an individual district championship, leading the regional-qualifying Indians to a seventh-place finish as a team. And individually, Bethel’s Korry Hamlin and Coleman Clark finished sixth and 28th at district, respectively, to qualify, and Miami East’s Gavin Horne finished eighth to qualify.
And on the girls side, Covington and Miami East are both in the top 20 in the state and have a shot to qualify. The Buccaneers were third at last week’s district meet, led by Carly Shell’s fourth-place finish, while Miami East was fourth, led by Lorenza Savini in second. And individually, Bradford’s Karmen Knepp finished third to advance to the regional and Newton’s Macy Flanary was 15th.
The girls will race first Saturday, beginning with D-III at 11 a.m., D-II at 11:45 a.m. and D-I at 12:30 p.m. The D-III boys will then run at 1:30 p.m., the D-II boys at 2:15 p.m. and the D-I boys at 3 p.m.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.