By David Fong
TROY — Three years ago, Kevin Alexander had a feeling he was watching something special unfolding before him.
What the Troy cross country coach didn’t know at the time, however, is just how special things would become.
“I remember when Morgan (Gigandet), Emma (Shigley) and Megan (Myers) came in for the first day of summer conditioning before their freshman year — we mostly just wanted to test their fitness to see where everyone was at,” Alexander said. “They came in on Day 1 and just smoked the upper classmen. It was pretty impressive.
“We knew then this group had the chance to be pretty special. Did we realize just how good they would become? Probably not. I had coached runners who had better times in junior high than that group did. But they just kept working hard and continuing to develop. It’s been a lot of fun to watch happen.”
That group of three, now juniors, have formed the framework of what has been the most highly decorated cross country team in school history. They have since been joined by senior transfers Emma Bryant and Jenna Zimmerman, along with sophomores Olivia Tyre and Kate Pence, to form a team that is expected to challenge for a Division I state title at this weekend’s state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
“For years, we’ve always had a couple of individuals who have done really well,” Alexander said. “But we’ve never had a group like this that all came along at the same time. Some of it is just luck, I guess — we were fortunate they all just happened to be the same age. But they’ve also put in a lot of hard work. I think they all feed off of one another and make each other better.
“They’ve definitely raised the bar for the entire program. What used to be considered exceptional is now what is expected. When new kids come into the program, this is all they know. Everyone knows what is expected of them now.”
The Trojans likely will compete with Centerville for the team title, while Gigandet also is expected to push Hilliard Davidson’s India Johnson — the odds-on favorite in the field — for an individual state title. Troy and Centerville have spent the past two weeks battling it out for the top spot in the state polls.
The Trojans defeated the Elks — the defending state champion — at the Greater Western Ohio Conference and district meets, but Centerville edged Troy on a sixth-runner tiebreak at last week’s regional meet. Alexander said the Trojans also need to be leery of some of the other bigger schools in the state, as well.
“I’m not trying to make this into a ‘David vs. Goliath’ type of situation, but I know we have a much smaller enrollment than a lot of the schools we are going to be competing against,” Alexander said. “There are going to be a lot of good teams there. But this group isn’t afraid to go after the Centervilles and the Medinas and the Gahanna Lincolns. They aren’t afraid to run with anyone.”
The Trojans — in their first-ever trip to state as a team — placed fifth at the state meet last year. Alexander said the Trojans’ goal is to place in the top three, but also realizes they can compete for a state championship.
“Anything can happen at the state meet,” he said. “Some of it will come down to who has the best day. If we have our best day, we feel like we can be right there and compete with anyone.”
Here’s a look at the rest of Miami County’s state qualifiers:
Division I Boys
Piqua senior Andy Mayse was the lone Division I boys qualifier from Miami County. He placed 12th at regionals to earn his trip to state.
Division II Boys
Tippecanoe, which won a state title two years ago and was a state runner-up last season, had a pair of runners qualify for the state meet. Senior Keenan Fraylick placed 12th at regionals, while freshman Bryce Conley placed 16th at regionals.
Division II Girls
Tippecanoe — the state runner-up last year — qualified for state again as a team by placing second at regionals. The Red Devils have been in the top three in the Division II state polls for most of the season and could content for a spot on the podium again this year.
Competing for the Red Devils will be sophomore Katie Taylor, sophomore Kaili Titley, junior MaKenzie Dietz, senior Abbi Halsey, sophomore Jillian Brown, junior Laura Fink and senior Bekah Shininger.
Division III Boys
Three boys from Miami County qualified for the Division III state meet. Bethel junior Korry Hamlin placed sixth at regionals, Milton-Union junior Will Brock placed 13th at regionals and Miami East sophomore Gavin Horne placed 14th at regionals.
Division III Girls
Covington captured a Division III regional title to earn a team berth at state. The Buccaneers will be sending senior Anna Dunn, sophomore Paige Boehringer, sophomore Ashlyn Plessinger, junior Kelsey Dysinger, junior Danielle Alexander, sophomore Chelsea Ford and junior Emma Dammeyer to state.
Also, four local runners qualified as individuals. Bradford’s Karmen Knepp was second at regionals, Miami East’s Lorenza Savini was fourth, Lehman’s Alanna O’Leary was 15th and Miami East’s Marie Ewing was 16th.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong