Saturday marks the conclusion of Ohio's 2021 high school cross country campaign with the OHSAA State Championships taking place at Fortress Obetz.
Division III athletes will kick-off the festivities with the women's race commencing at 9:00 am followed by men's competition scheduled for one hour later.
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Division III Boys
East Canton will look to execute the repeat in Saturday's second race. Last year they edged 2019 champions Summit Country Day to earn their second title in four years. The pride of Osnaburg Township also brought state championship gold back to Stark County in 2017.
Having the luxury of seemingly interchangeable No. 1's with Gabe Shilling and Brylan Holland, the Pacmen have firepower up front and depth throughout the entire line-up. Schilling, a senior, picked up a pair of individual race wins this season to go along with six other top 3 finishes. The junior classman Holland collected the first individual victory of his high school career at Boardman Region and, like Shilling, he's been consistent all fall with six top 5 placements in his nine race starts.
The team won at Boardman by 55 points and they count wins at District GlenOak, the Spartan Invite and the Tiffin Carnival among their season's highlights. The OATCCC recognized East Canton's body of work with a No. 1 rating (gathering 11 of 12 first place votes) in Wednesday's pre-state meet release.
Of all the Division III Regional champions appointed last Saturday, none did it more convincingly than Mount Gilead. Placing at spots 1-2-3-12-17, they hung a low 35 point score on the board for an 88 point victory at Pickerington North.
Led by one of the state's top DIII individual performers in Michael Snopik, the Indians check-in at No. 3, according to the OATCCC.
Preventing East Canton from sweeping the coaches association's first place votes was Fort Loramie, who earned one 1st place nod and a No. 2 overall ranking.
Out of the Tiffin Region, Columbus Grove and Holgate engaged in a tight battle going 1-2 with Columbus Grove prevailing by a 13 point margin. Understandably, the clubs rank tucked together following the coaches poll with Columbus Grove at No. 4 and Holgate trailing one behind at No. 5.
Braden Yingst will aim to keep his unblemished record in tact within the individual competition. The senior from Lima Perry is a remarkable 11 for 11 as far as race wins go on the season. Complementing his Regional and District crowns were victories at Van Wert, Ottawa-Glandorf and Botkins, where he established his all-time best mark over the 5 kilometer distance, a 15:41.3 showing.
Hayden Schmidt was 7th at the 2020 state meet, as a junior, and will be eager to move up the leaderboard in the final OHSAA-based XC race of his high school career. Like Yingst, Schmidt has enjoyed considerable success this fall. Five race wins and a season's best time of 15:44.11 anchor the Anna representatives resume.
A total of nine runners from Ohio's Division III have gone 16 flat or faster this season. Joining Yingst and Schmidt in that company are Charles Putnam, Jonathan Varner, Ian Paul, Brayden O'Brien, Blake Rodgers and the previously discussed Michael Snopik and Gabe Shilling.
Putnam, from Portsmouth, impressed at Region 11 with a runner-up finish. Waynedale's Varner tallied half a dozen 1st place finishes this season and clocked 15:52.4 in a second place effort at Wooster. O'Brien, out of Reedsville Eastern, overcame the slick and muddy course at Region 11 and came away the champion. Paul, a senior at Canton Central Catholic, recorded a season's best 15:58.0 and earned wins at Dover, Tuslaw, Boardman Spartan, as well as the District GlenOak meet.
Division III Girls
The state's top two entries, per the OATCCC, are based out of the Tiffin Region. Minster, the Region 6 champions, and the runner-up team from Liberty Center will rematch Saturday at Obetz following their duel last weekend, where Minster emerged by 29 points (43-72). That showing, along with wins at Bob Schul, Tiffin Carnival and District Columbus Grove, among others, steered the association in granting Minster all twelve first place votes. They placed three in the overall top 10, at Region 6, and were led by sophomore Margaret Hemmelgarn, who went 18:56.5 for 3rd place.
West Liberty-Salem, the 2020 state champions, and Fort Loramie have seen a steady dose of one another of late. WSL got the nod at Region Troy 60-66 and it was Fort Loramie who secured victory the weekend before at District Cedarville via tie-breaker as the teams recorded 53 points a piece. They rank at No. 4 (West Liberty-Salem) and No. 5 (Fort Loramie) via the most recent OATCCC poll.
Rounding out the top 5 is the 3rd rated team from Gilmour Academy. The Gates Mills-based squad won by a 31 point spread at Boardman Region, where they were led up front by junior Clare Valenza (5th overall) and sophomore Amy Weybrecht (8th overall). The group's 2021 body of work includes wins at Boardman Spartan, District Madison and an impressive runner-up finish to Division I contenders Shaker Heights at Avon Lake.
Her sophomore campaign began with four top 5 finishes and then she really started to get going. At Saturday Night Lights, Richards went 18:06.2 for 6th place when facing many of Ohio's DI and DII elites, not to mention the formidable group of from Ann Arbor Pioneer (MI).
Hope Oelkrug and JoAnna Kelley had a spirited battle at Region Tiffin going 1-2 in times of 18:49.80 and 18:50 flat, respectively. Kelley is ranked second in Division III with a season's best of 18:19.05 while Oelkrug resides at No. 5 due to her 18:26.5 effort at District Cedarville.
Carey's Sarah Reinhart started her '21 season on a tear, winning nine straight races including a best mark this fall of 18:24.78 at Columbus Grove. Reinhart was the runner-up at last year's state meet.
Michaela McGill owns a PR of 18:42.6 stemming from her 1st place performance at the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference Championships. The senior from Mount Gilead is full of momentum following the Region 11 title she earned last weekend at Pick North.
Megan Adams is likely to be in the mix up front, as well. The No. 1 on Ohio's 4th ranked West Liberty-Salem squad has crossed the line first in six of her eight race starts this fall. She's clocked sub-19 minutes on four occasions, highlighted by her 18:26.5 mark at District Cedarville.