(Aerial tour of Champions Park course)
The final cross country meet in 2020 on Ohio soil is set for Saturday at Champions Park course. Midwest High School Challenge will feature a range of veterans who've toed the line at high stakes competitions to young up-and-comer's who are looking to put their names on the map. Course record holders, state champions and several of the top ranked runners from Ohio and neighboring states are ready to descend upon Springfield. The festivities will kick off at noon with the girls contest and the boys will follow with a 12:45 scheduled start time.
On paper there's clear favorites heading into the action, but we all know that previous accolades matter little once the gun sounds. That being said here are some big names that occupy the entry lists and we look forward to the under-the-radar racers who will undoubtedly flourish on meet day.
How Low Will Takumi Go?
Bellbrook senior, and Champions Park course record holder, Takumi Ford resides at the top of the pre-meet leaderboard. Ford went 15:52 flat on this same course at the Jim Murray Invite to establish the fastest mark produced at the venue. He'll be wrapping up an exceptional campaign that saw him notch half a dozen wins, including District Cedarville. Ford's resume is anchored by a third place finish at the Division 1 state meet, where he clocked a personal best time of 15:32.30.
Ford figures to have company up front and a strong pack to mix it up with, as eight runners enter the meet with sub 16-minute performances on their records. Look out for Dylan Lauck and Hayden Schmidt to vie for first place honors. Lauck, a junior from West Liberty-Salem, knows all about winning. He crossed the line first five times this season and was in the mix in every other one of his starts. Anna's Schmidt earned seven victories in 2020 and ran a PR time of 15:44.88 at his home invite. He saved his best effort for when it mattered the most, however. Schmidt was the seventh place finisher at the D3 state meet.
One of the state's top ranked freshmen, Blake Rodgers and Mason White, a senior from Cardington-Lincoln, are also proven front-runners. Belpre's Rodgers launched his high school career with authority by securing a trio of runner-up efforts out of the gates, highlighted by a 15:51.0 mark at the Jeremy Anderson Invite. He carried that momentum on throughout the duration of the season and placed an impressive 12th at the state meet where he battled it out with the top D3 talent that Ohio could offer. White is one of the most experienced athletes in the field with three state meet appearances to his credit. He posted a 15:53.63 mark at the Freddie KMAC Quad and took top 5 finishes at his district and region meets before placing 15th at D3 state's.
State Meet Tested
The girls field is small in number, but big on talent. Grace Hartman and out-of-stater, Brooke Edwardson are presumably set for a battle up front, but don't expect it to be easy for them. Ten runners on the roster own marks under 18:40, five have gone 18:10 or lower and three have broken the elusive 18 minute standard.
The highlight of Hartman's high school XC tenure came at the Division 2 state meet, where she notched a razor thin victory over two-time reigning champion, Ella Gilson in one of the most exciting finishing sequences in recent memory. Edwardson, a standout at Wisconsin's Kimberly High School, punctuated her high school career with a second place showing at the Division 1 Championships. The Temple University commit informed MileSplit Ohio that she's excited to face new competition and expect her to lay it all on the line at Champions Park.
Katie Clute is making the trek all the way from the Northeast Region and hopes to polish her season off in a big way. The Olmsted Falls sophomore served notice to the state's elite when she dropped a 17:59.40 mark during her 2020 debut at Keystone. Clute placed seventh in the loaded OHSAA Division 1 Championship race, making it clear that she's on the short-list of Ohio's top returning XC talents.
Annie Bennett, Audrey DeSantis, Madison Eyman and Ella Boate carry distinguished resumes with them to Springfield. Bennett, a Central Michigan commit, finished 6th at the D1 state meet and DeSantis has been a model of consistency this season. The Springfield Shawnee representative collected six wins in 2020 and finished inside the top 5 during ten of her eleven race starts. It was all about winning for Fairfield Union's Eyman this season, as she registered nine individual nods to precede her fourth place showing at the Division 2 Championships. Winning would also apply to Boate, who comes from one of the state's most decorated programs, Minster. The Miami University commit pocketed four triumphs in 2020 and was sixth at the D3 Championships.
Also, be on the look out for Reece Savage, our visitor from the Land of Lincoln, Peyton Schieppe and Oakwood senior, Hannah Moulton. Savage, from Johnstown-Monroe appears to be a future star on the Ohio cross country scene. The freshman made an emphatic introduction of herself this year by tallying five straight wins to launch her high school career. She was seventh at the OHSAA Division 2 state meet. Schieppe, an Illinois native who represents O'Fallon High School, has battled injuries of late, but recently returned to excellent form by earning All-Meet status at the highly esteemed ShaZam XC Championships. Moulton clocked a personal best mark of 18:40.30 for eighth place at the OHSAA Division 2 State Championships. She and the aforementioned Grace Hartman made for a dynamic duo that led their squad to a runner-up performance.