MIAMI COUNTY — From being considered a contact sport, to having that classification changed to non-contact, to finally everyone being allowed to compete, arguably no fall sport has had a more up-and-down time leading up to its season than cross country.
“It is a day-by-day extravaganza of changes,” Troy girls cross country coach Kevin Alexander said. “We’re just hoping we can get rolling on Monday and things don’t get crazy at any point in the season.”
But now that the season is here, the defending Miami Valley League champion Trojans are ready to make the most of it — even if they will be running against the same competition each week after the MVL voted to move to a league-only schedule for every fall sport.
After spring sports were canceled and fall sports threatened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Troy’s girls were just happy to be able to train in the offseason.
“This summer, the girls have been absolutely incredible,” Alexander said. “They have been on. They were just happy to all meet up and start doing something. We started back on June 1, and I think that was as big a thing as anything, was seeing each other. The biggest problem I’ve had all summer is yelling at them because they get too close to each other at times.
“They’re just happy to finally be out and get back to some sense of normalcy despite all the chaos. Without a track season, we weren’t sure what we’d be getting, but they have been eager and have worked real hard all summer. They have been great attitude-wise and getting after it.”
And now that competition will be starting, the Trojans are set to show off their returning firepower.
“They’re ready,” Alexander said. “This team could be quietly scary in how good they may end up. When we get to the postseason, I think they can really turn some heads and surprise people.
“We return every varsity runner from last year’s squad. And the girls that weren’t on varsity, many of them have improved. And we have some freshmen with some potential, too. This team is deeper than last year’s team, and last year’s team was good.”
That group of varsity runners includes three-time state qualifier senior Dinah Gigandet, who finished 16th to earn All-Ohio honors in last year’s Division I race, as well as junior Emma Kennett, who qualified for state her freshman year. Also returning is junior Renee Kovacs and sophomores Hallie Frigge, Millie Peltier and Josie and Emma Marlow.
“That year of experience is really paying off for those sophomores,” Alexander said. “There’s just a strong group even right behind them.”
Leading that group is sophomores Hannah Brooks, Aubrey Gillespie, Allison Kyle and Katie Hansbarger and junior Hannah Falknor, as well as two other seniors in Hannah Markeson and Atlantis Smith.
And the Trojans will be using that depth to compete with the MVL — and no one else until the postseason.
“The coaching staff knew what we had coming back and the potential of these girls,” Alexander said. “Not being able to go to these large meets, it’ll affect us just because we’re not going to see the more elite teams in Ohio. It’ll put a crimp on things, but I don’t think it’s anything that the girls won’t be able to overcome and deal with when we do see the Centervilles and Beavercreeks.”
But that’s not all bad, since Troy will still be competing with perennial Division II state qualifier Tippecanoe. Last year, the Trojans eked out a 39-43 victory at the MVL meet to win the league title.
“Tipp is going to provide us plenty of competition on their own on a weekly basis,” Alexander said. “We’re just not going to see 20 teams like Tipp in a race. They’re a phenomenal program. It’d just be nice to go against multiple teams of their caliber to press the girls a bit — but you know? There are a lot of schools in a similar situation. We have to adapt and adjust and make due with what we have. Because at least we get to compete.”
Even though Tippecanoe was so young last season, the Red Devils continued their streak of qualifying for the state meet as a team — and that is Tippecanoe’s aim once again.
“We want to keep our state qualifying streak going. We have made it every year since 2013,” said Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel, entering his 12th year with the team. “Troy is the favorite in the MVL. We need to develop a consistent fifth runner.”
Returning for the Red Devils are junior Annie Sinning and sophomores Alex Foster, Shelby Hept and Isa Ramos, along with a solid freshman class led by Gracie Wead and Grace Ganger.
Ryan King is back for his fifth year as Piqua girls cross country coach, and with a returning regional qualifier in the lineup he is hoping to see the Indians compete in the MVL.
“Our league is tough, and since we’re only competing against other MVL teams this year, they’re all the teams to beat,” he said. “Troy and Tipp City are consistently good, and there are some other schools with strong individuals that our kids are looking forward to competing against.
“We want to have a complete season, then see the hard work pay off in the postseason.”
Leading Piqua’s returners is junior Cassie Schrubb, who ran in last year’s regional meet, along with sophomore Jana Wagner. Senior Gracie Clark and sophomore Libby Bradney will help add depth to the lineup.
Katie Roose takes over the Milton-Union girls program, with the Bulldogs bringing back a team that finished second in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division last year but followed that by reaching the regional meet — and is looking to do so again.
“We’d like to see the girls team repeat as a regional qualifier from last season, and for each individual girl to outperform her previous year’s marks week in and week out,” Roose said.
Back for the Bulldogs are seniors Micah Tracy and Kelsie Tomlinson, juniors Sophie Meredith and Maddie Stasiak and sophomore Maddie Coate, with freshman Ty Parsons joining the team this year.
After not getting a track season in the spring, Bethel’s lead runners are more than ready to show what they can do in their last season as members of the Cross County Conference.
Returning for the Bees are seniors Madison Spaeth, Lisa Sebastian and Makenzie Nida and junior Kylie Balkcom, with junior Avery Endsley and freshmen Carmyn Nida, Abby Murlin and Kewel Tyler joining the roster..
“Makenzie is looking for a breakout season after a great winter and then the loss of the spring, and she has set her sights on being all-CCC and getting to regionals,” said Bethel coach Mark Clute, entering his 22nd year with the Bees. “The team is looking to surprise some people and be competitive at all meets this season and grow stronger as a group.”
• Miami East
Miami East’s girls are looking to leave a mark in their final season in the CCC before leaving for the new Three Rivers Conference in 2021.
“I hope we are able to perform near the top of our league this year, and I hope we are able to move a few runners into the postseason,” 12th-year Miami East coach Alan Russell said.
Back for the Vikings this year are senior Cyrena McAdams and junior Kylie Davie, with freshman Maryn Gross looking ready to impress as a new addition.
Covington’s Josh Long is back for his 15th season at the Buccaneers’ helm, and the team brings back a host of veterans in addition to a solid crop of young talent.
Returning runners include Allie Garman, Emily Schafer, Summer Anderson, Haley Hargrave, Teylor Meyer, Kailey Young and Yelena Weaver. New to the team this year are Eve and Johanna Welborn, Kinsey Mitchell, Audrey Tobe and Ella White.
“The league race will be competitive again this year,” Long said. “We hope to be running our best when we get to that point in the season.”
Seniors Mackenzie Knupp and Grace Williams will make up Newton’s two-person team this season and are looking to finish their careers with a quality year.
“I would like for the ladies to finish out their career in cross country with a strong season,” Newton coach Aubrey Hughes said. “I want them to improve their times from last year and continue to grow in their running. Both ladies are important to our team because their leadership is important for our junior high girls team.”
• Troy Christian
Troy Christian’s girls have a full team this season and are ready to compete in their final season in the Metro Buckeye Conference.
Sophomores Jewel Myers and ZaNya Green both return as the team’s top runners, along with junior Cheyanna Cullen and senior Katie Townsend. Joining the team to fill out the roster are sophomore Mackenzie Rougier and freshmen Annie Twiss and Gwen Harris.
“It’s really exciting to have a full girls team this year, and we will have some tough competition from Dayton Christian — who also has a large girls team — as well as Legacy Christian and Emmanuel Christian,” said Troy Christian coach Jeff McDaniel, entering his 19th year with the team. “Our goal has always been to develop runners that will have the desire to keep a healthy and active lifestyle, build confidence and practice commitment through training. We strive to see continual improvement throughout the season.”