LEXINGTON – The boys cross country rivalry between Lexington and Ashland will continue in 2014.
Last year Ashland won the Ohio Cardinal Conference championship, while Lexington was runner-up. Both teams went on to make state meet appearances in 2013.
In the season-opening OHSAA Pre-Season Invitational, Ashland was third and the Minutemen fourth at the site of the state championships — National Trail Raceway in Kirkersville.
“Having come off a state qualifying year, our team returns five of our top seven runners as well as brings up some up-and-coming talent in our very talented underclassmen,” Ashland coach Tim Black said. “After a very strong showing in 2014 outdoor track, our team is primed and ready to go.”
Ashland’s Leif McFrederick has already posted the second-fastest time in school history with a 15:52 last year. The senior was fifth in 16:47 at the season-opener. Junior Edmund Coleman had a break-out meet last weekend by finishing fourth in 16:44, while sophomore Andrew Stump was also a top 10 placer.
“Our summer mileage has given us the foundation we need to hopefully start where we finished last year,” Black said.
With 33 runners on the roster, the Arrows have the biggest team in north central Ohio. With that the goals remain the same: Win the OCC for the fourth time in five years, win a Division I district championship again, improve from a fourth-place in the regional and do better than 16th at the state meet.
As it goes for the OCC goal, Lexington will try to keep them from achieving it.
The Minutemen return two All-Ohio podium finishers from a year ago in senior Zane Sturts and junior Nick Stricklen. Sturts won the OCC as an individual and was a Division II regional runner-up before finisihing fourth in the state. Stricklen was right behind, ending fifth at the state meet.
“The Lex boys have experience from last year’s 11th-place state showing,” Lexington coach Denise Benson said, the only female coach to send boys and girls teams together to the state meet in the last three years.
To go with their two front-runners, senior Quinton Glenn, senior Mitch Bastin and senior Kyle Frey all return to the pack.
“Freshmen talent will strengthen the team,” Benson said.
Ryan Johnston was 29th at the opener in 17:39, while fellow freshman Forest Volz was 44th in 17:58, so Benson wasn’t lying about the youngsters making meaningful contributions.
Depth will be a concern this year, especially if there are any injuries or illnesses, but she expects the team to get stronger as the season goes and improve upon last year’s state meet finish.
Outside the OCC, the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference will be the toughest league in the area. Fredericktown, Highland, Mount Gilead and Cardington will all feature strong teams with sure-fire state qualifiers on on their rosters.
With the North Central Conference disbanding and the Northern 10 taking its place, the Crawford County schools will all try to make history by winning the first N-10 crown.
The Firelands Conference will be competitive with Crestview, Mapleton and Plymouth all pushing longtime league power New London.
The Northern Ohio League will see an improved Shelby team, a strong contender in Willard and Ontario’s Brett Cortelletti trying to win a championship.