MIAMI COUNTY — As it prepares for its season-opening meet Monday night, the Troy boys cross country team is already finding out just how different the 2020 season will look.
“We were one of the only states that said cross country was a contact sport for a while, but luckily they changed their minds so we could have our meets,” Troy boys cross county coach Phil Matthews said. “We have our 3K meet on Monday and were out setting up the course — and there’s a lot more set-up this year. It’s going to be unique.”
But with the Trojans only able to compete against Miami Valley League schools after the league went to a conference-only schedule this fall, there will be more room for all of the special set-up required due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and Troy and its fellow MVL teams are just thankful for the opportunity to compete.
“It makes it easier with the meets being smaller,” Matthews said. “Preferably, we’d still like to be running against some different competition and go to different courses. But we’ll roll with the punches. Really, we’re just happy to have a season at this point.”
Once they hit the course, the Trojans will have a very experienced group, too.
Josh Lovitt is back for his senior season to lead a solid top five for the Trojans this year. Also returning are junior Will Schaefer and sophomores Gavin Hutchinson and Matthew Spayde, and they will be joined by freshman Cooper Gambrell. Sophomore Kyle McCord also joins the team this season.
“We’ve had all of these guys since junior high,” Matthews said. “The main thing this year is that we’ve got to keep everybody healthy. Will and Matthew both had leg injuries that they were getting through, and we don’t have Braden Coate right now because of an injury. As long as these guys can stay healthy, they compete really well. They’re going to look good this year.”
And the team has taken the unprecedented offseason in stride, too.
“They’re really positive,” Matthews said. “They work hard, but they’re so relaxed and chill and just take it one day at a time. They’ve been really good about the entire situation. There was always that hope that we would have a season. They’ve been awesome kids, and Lovitt, as our senior, has kept everyone in line and gets them ready each day.”
Last year, Tippecanoe was the MVL champion with 24 points and Troy was in second with 62. Matthews is hoping his team can close that gap this season.
“It’ll be interesting having basically a league meet every week,” he said. “I think it’ll be like last year, coming down to us and Tipp. They lost some guys since last year. It could be a really good competition between us and Tipp there at the end of the year.”
Tippecanoe may have graduated its leader in Bryce Conley in the offseason, but the Red Devils bring back plenty of experienced runners in their effort to defend their MVL title.
Gannon Owen, Allan Murray, Ben Prenger, Trenton Brown, Kalib Tolle and Dylan Taylor all return, with Michael Lyons joining the team.
“All of these guys ran under 17:10 last year, and Murray, Prenger and Brown run under 17,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “Our goals for this year are to, No. 1, have a season, and No. 2 qualify for the state meet.”
Piqua’s cross country team returns a host of strong runners this year, led by a regional qualifier, and hopes to be able to compete with the top teams in the MVL.
Back is regional qualifier Nolan Campbell, with a strong junior class consisting of Paul Hinds, Jesse Furman and Caven Wiles. The team will also be joined by last year’s junior high MVL champion, Simon Baker.
“We want to have a complete season, then see our hard work pay off in the postseason,” Piqua coach Seth Fashner said. “Our league is tough, with Troy and Tipp being consistently good. Greenville’s boys will probably be tough, as well.”
Michael Meredith returns for his 21st season as Milton-Union coach, and though the Bulldogs have fewer numbers than recent years, they’re still hoping to leave a mark on the Southwestern Buckeye League.
Back for the team are senior Chris Miller and juniors Kyle Bostick and Eric Trittschuh, with Collin Thomas and McKinna Rupp joining the team.
“We need to stay healthy all year with our top runners to be able to score as a team,” Meredith said. “What we lack in depth, we have made up for with a solid summer and hard work together as a team.”
With a returning state qualifier leading the way, defending CCC champion Newton hopes to make it back-to-back titles in the final season of the league.
“The guys team won the CCC in 2019 and are looking to do it again,” sixth-year Newton coach Aubrey Hughes said. “They know there will be a lot of work ahead and that they have to stay healthy in terms of injuries. We graduated one of our top runners last year, so we know everyone on varsity will have to step up.”
One top runner back for the Indians, though, is junior Ben Hoover, who qualified for the Division III state meet as an individual last year. Also back are seniors Owen Via and Jacob Moore and juniors Clint Shellenberger and Robert Ingle.
With a large group of returners and some fresh faces, Covington is hoping to compete in its final season in the CCC this year.
Senior Bennett Welborn returns to lead the Buccaneers along with Tyler Alexander, Jaden and Mic Barhorst, Owen Boehringer, Devin Brummitt, Avery Rench, Andrew Rose and Gavin Fraley, with Drew Dessner, Asher Long, Britton Miller and Carson Taylor joining the team.
“The league race will be competitive again this year,” Covington coach Josh Long said. “We hope to be running our best when we get to that point in the season.”
• Miami East
With a young team but also a couple of returners, Miami East is looking to finish its CCC run strong before joining the new Three Rivers Conference in 2021.
Seniors Garrett LeMaster and Adam Bensman return to lead the Vikings, with Andrew Crane and Evan Noll leading a big group of freshmen with potential.
“We are a very young team,” 12th-year Miami East coach Alan Russell said. “We have a lot of talent in the sophomore and freshmen classes. We hope to perform near the top of the league this year and improve upon our performance of a year ago.”
As Bethel’s Mark Clute enters his 22nd year with the team, he believes the Bees have a shot at the CCC title in their final season in the league.
“We believe that we will be the dark horse for the CCC title,” Clute said. “This group wants to get back to the regional meet in Troy since we have moved up to Division II.”
Leading the way are seniors Kaleb Roberts, Cole Brannan and Nathanial Patton and junior Trent Schweikhardt. New to the team will be junior Jaiden Hogge and freshmen Bryce Schweikhardt, John Daugherty and Landon Endsley.
With a solid mix of returning and new runners, Bradford is hoping to continue to build during its final season in the CCC.
“Our goal this year is to build our team, continually improve throughout the season and continue catching the next team in front of us,” Bradford coach Rob Grillot said. “As a young team, we would like to establish our place among the other teams in the league and improve our position from last year’s conference results.”
Leading the way will be returners Aidan Beachler, Dalton Reck, Jayden Dues and Hunter Biddlestone, with Owen Beachler, Ethan Brogan and Devon Hawes joining the team.
• Troy Christian
Troy Christian returns just one runner from last year’s team, and 19th-year coach Jeff McDaniel wants to see him get as far as he can.
“I have one returning runner this year after losing several seniors on a great team last year. But sophomore Noah Shook is determined to run hard this year,” he said. “Our goal is to get Noah to state, and if we could convince some other guys to come out, that would be a plus.”