Tracking The Elite Northwest Region Teams

(JoAnna Kelley / Ottawa Hills

Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

In 2018 Queen Elizabeth admitted in a BBC documentary that the royal imperial crown of Great Britain is quite heavy, and that when wearing it, she struggled to look up or down for fear it would fall and break. While Ohio's high schoolers are not wearing crowns imbedded with 2,800 diamonds, a rare few do have the privilege to compete for an additional season after they have already been crowned an OHSAA state champion.

I reached out to three programs in Northwest Ohio that either currently wear that crown or are hot in pursuit of the honor to see what their thoughts are on the impact being at the top of our sport has on their team collectively and on their athletes individually. Hopefully we all can learn a thing or two on effort and poise from our areas top contenders.

The first contact made is with head coach Tyler Fairchild of Ottawa Hills. The Green Bears are currently the top boys team in division III cross country both in the MileSplit season rankings and the OATCCC coaches poll. The team has a season PR average of 16:40 with their top runner, Junior Riley Nixon, being in the DIII top ten individuals having run sub sixteen.

As it is the first time that Ottawa Hills has been ranked this high in the state I asked coach Fairchild when he suspected that they could be reaching these heights, "I told my assistant coach during track that we might have something special. I'll be honest I was very up front...we have a chance to be really good but there is only so much workouts do, it's about how you guys take it from here. I think kids stepped up mental preparation and worked really hard this summer. I think the kids love it, the recognition of being number one, I may have some underclassmen who do not fully grasp the situation"

As you start to see the writing on the wall for potential, having a top guy is Riley Nixon who last year as a sophomore nearly broke sixteen flat how does the rest of team embrace the challenge to be with him, "it is always great to have a top runner lets be honest, but the thing about Riley is he is such a great leader. Him (Riley) and my number two Thomas Franklin both podiumed in track for the 3200. These two have been the catalyst, as a coach we say things and it can go in one ear and out the other but for a peer to say it to them, well it might as well be scripture".

The final topic that we discussed was how exactly the Green Bears are working to make sure they are able to fend off a push from the likes of East Canton, Summit Country Day, or Fort Loramie; teams that may not rank high early in the year but continually improve and peak at the state meet, "yeah we know that there are really good teams out there and the best thing we can do to compete at the end of the year against the likes of East Canton or Fort Loramie or others is to be healthy come the end of the year. Making sure we are taking care of ourselves to give it our best shot." 

(Ava Beeks / Perrysburg

The second coach who spoke for an interview is head coach Jon Monheim of Perrysburg. Coach Monheim and his ladies team are the reigning division I champions and are looking to press the matter on a repeat near the top as they currently sit ranked third in both the MileSplit season rankings and the OATCCC coaches poll.

The Lady Jackets are looking to perform with the best of the state as a team and are looking to do it with strong pack running; the team's top five runners only span 41 seconds. In interviewing I started where I thought all of us wonder the most, how does a first time state title feel and how long does the joy from the memory last. Coach Monheim shed light on it for those of us who are not fortunate enough to yet know for ourselves, "I still think about it daily if I am honest. But for our team once it came to summer we reset". With the joy though I asked at what point do they turn the page, "we had a really good summer, every year we go up to Michigan and we had discussions. What we did last year was incredible but we need to turn the page, and even with most girls returning people change and we were going to have different girls in some different spots. So I think this summer we turned the page and since the season started we haven't brought it up at all, working to keep them hungry."

In this goal setting though how would Coach Monheim and the other coaches approach the new season, would defending the title be on their minds, "honestly we are not open to that conversation. I remember telling our girls, it may sound crazy, but I would never put that kind of pressure on you. Our goal is to be healthy at the end of the season." Even without talking about it though how has the podium finish affected the girls in their training, "I think I have seen...girls who were a part of it wanting to get back and girls who saw it working to be a part of it, I would have to say it has made the team even more focused. Our biggest concern is reeling kids in who are working too hard, almost daily now I have to tell our top group that sometimes we need to let the easy days be easy days". So what does reeling in look like for your kids, "give us an hour and a half each day, focus and locked in, then on your own make good choices with your sleep and your diet, we are not big into extra work...we also try not to talk about it a ton because it is a mental sport."

This year aside, where can we expect the Perrysburg lady Jackets to be in the next five years, "culture has changed we hadn't made a state meet as of ten years ago, we have a great junior high program that keeps kids hungry and they love the sport. My goal is to make us a sport that the community wants to follow and people respect. I truly think in the next decade...we are capable of top five finishes more years than not and that we are a program to be talked about in the future."

(Taylor Roth / Minster

The third and final coach who was kind enough to take my call is the ever positive Jessie Magoto of Minster. Her Lady Wildcats again find themselves at the top of everyone's state rankings as they are defending state champions, and according to the Ohio MileSplit performance rankings, they have the presumed best odds at bringing the crown home again this fall for a state record 15th time and what would be six times in seven seasons.

Even before coach Jessie Magoto Minster was a contender annually, coach Magoto it seems, has boiled that success down and made it far more consistent. I asked coach Magoto what their summers look like given that in spring they normally threaten for a track state title and the fall they do for cross country, "We just let them run on their own, not a whole lot of organized runs or races but just make sure that they keep their love of the sport alive".

Naturally though, we are left to wonder though how they can be so relaxed and yet be pressing for hardware, and at what point does it then turn to eye on the prize, "we do not look at rankings or ratings at all, it will fall where it will, some of our best Minster track teams have not won state but others have just because of the way things broke that year", if not returning the championships to Minster what is the goal each year, "we want to just maximize potential, and if we do that either it comes to us or it doesn't but we can hold our head high".

There is even without speaking of the titles though a sense of continuity that Minster will seemingly always be at the top, we could wonder how it may impact freshman as they come into the program, "our freshman are ready to go, they are not waiting for anyone to leave or move over they are ready to race to be in the top seven, and as a freshman female distance runner they have the ability to do that".

I asked coach Magoto then, what is the chemistry like on a team that, for instance this year, returns every varsity scorer, "the team starts with the veteran's leadership setting expectations for the girls but then you need the eager naïve ones to create a good balance".

Perhaps this is different from what onlookers would expect or maybe it is the classic Bill Belicheck "on to Cincinnati" approach of never looking back and only worrying about your two hands and feet. Regardless of what we expected I asked coach Magoto as we parted to spare some wisdom for the rest of the coaching population but more directly for Perrysburg's Jon Monheim as he and his team look to repeat, Jessie offers, "Don't get caught up in wins, get caught in your team and the kids, work ridiculously hard, 110 percent, keep your heads held high in the work you are doing not the outcome, get caught up in doing it the right way".

Simple yet effective advice, the challenge is tempering the eagerness we all feel to reach success. In a way, the crown is heavy enough, do not let it weigh down your mind along with your head.