Mercy, Seton cross country battle brewing

Mercy, Seton cross country battle brewing

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Mercy, Seton cross country battle brewing

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Seton’s Erica Schloemer, right, came in 11th at the Division I state meet Nov. 1 last season at National Trail Raceway.

Seton’s Erica Schloemer, right, came in 11th at the Division I state meet Nov. 1 last season at National Trail Raceway.

It seems the ladies of Westwood, clad in blue, have found some magic in the hills traversed training over the years for the cross country season.

Mercy’s raced with a dependable consistency over the last quarter century. According to head coach Scott Ridder, the Bobcats have qualified as team to the regional meet in six consecutive seasons and 22 of the last 26 years. It’s quite the run. Also worth noting, Mercy has raised the Girls Greater Catholic League trophy in each of the last two seasons, and hasn’t finished worse than third in the league each of the previous 26 years, per Ridder.

With several experienced departures, Mercy will have to find a way to continue its impressive racing streaks.

Mercy’s top returner is junior Alex Stevens, who, Ridder said, was the team’s “No. 1 runner for the championship part of our season (in 2014).” Stevens, a two-time regional qualifier, was first-team All-GGCL and honorable mention All-Region last year.

Mercy’s other returning starters are senior Aleah Mersch and juniors Hannah Doll, Margo Waters, Olivia Hatch and Olivia Mullen. Ridder said Doll was Mercy’s most improved runner last season, and Mersch was voted captain as a junior and has “exceptional” leadership qualities. Ridder also said Waters has run varsity in each of her first three seasons; this year, she’s working her way back from an injury suffered during the track season. Hatch has improved again and will score valuable points at meets, said Ridder, who added Mullen is also working her way back from a track injury.

“This team has a core group of returning runners who are very hard working and dedicated and we started the season in great shape,” Ridder said. “Although we lost three of our top five runners to graduation we have five experienced runners returning. The veteran runners have worked hard to make up for the losses and we also added some new runners who will also contribute and add some needed depth. Right now, we have a very solid top-three runners but lack that established true front runner that many of the top teams will have. I am hopeful one of these girls will develop into a front runner by the end of the season.”

There’s not simply one reason for Seton to be excited for the cross country season. There’s more than a handful, and they come in the form of a dedicated, hard-working group of girls who run for each other as much as anything else.

The Saints aren’t looking ahead, they’re focused on their own feet, one step at a time. But, they know they have a talented team, which could allow them to end droughts that have lasted nearly 15 years.

Ninth-year head coach Karen Berndt said Seton hasn’t won the Girls Greater Catholic League or advanced as a team to regionals since 2001. Barring injuries, Berndt believes this year’s team has the talent and depth to be on the starting line together at regionals.

The Saints have quite the tandem at the top of their rotation in sophomore Erica Schloemer and junior Audrey Laiveling. Schloemer, whom Berndt said is already the fastest runner in school history, was the GGCL Runner of the Year in 2014 and placed 11th at the state meet, the highest finish at state by a freshman last season (Division I) and the best finish in school history, per Berndt. Laiveling, who made first-team All-GGCL last season with Schloemer, finished 24th last season at the regional meet.

It’s the depth behind Schloemer and Laiveling that could place Seton over the top this year. Seniors Maria Visconti and Sammie Moore both started last year. Junior Meghan Davis is a soccer transplant who runs well, and sophomores Olivia Webber and Sarah Telscher will also score some points. Telscher was the district track champion in 400 meters in the spring.

“I think it (having Erica and Audrey pacing the team) benefits everyone in the way you know you need five (to score points),” Berndt said. “You can’t do anything without five. So, it kind of motivates the other girls. Those girls keep pushing each other to keep closing the gap. It’s motivating everybody.”

At the Moeller Invitational, Seton’s first meet of the season, the Saints finished third overall out of 29 teams.

Oak Hills coach Shellie Hageman said her team’s goal is to qualify for the regional meet as a team. It’s not a complicated goal, but it’s one that requires work in the form of miles.

Last season, the Highlanders tasted a little success with a win at the Princeton Invitational and a runner-up finish at the Lebanon Invitational. Hageman, now in her 16th season, said she gets most of her firepower back from a season ago.

Senior captains Laura Jennrich and Samantha Savard along with juniors Makenzie Deidesheimer and Liz Scarlato are all returning starters. Jennrich, Scarlato and Deidesheimer were Greater Miami Conference second team runners last season.

“Those four athletes run as a solid pack of four together every day,” Hageman said. “I am excited to see them continue to work together during races.”

Joining the ranks this season will be junior Devin Ulrich, whom Hageman said has made big improvements already this season, and sophomores Katie Nickerson, Katlynn Pristas and Carlee Gourley.

“This is a great group of athletes who are fun to be around every day. They work really well together as a team motivating and supporting each other,” said Hageman. “Our goal is to qualify for the regional meet as a team.”

In its season-opener Oak Hills finished fifth out of 20 teams at the Finish Timing Invitational at Wilmington College.

Taylor’s girls cross country squad is deep and returns a lot of experience. The Yellow Jackets qualified as a team to the regional meet in 2014. Coach Jeff Smith said, from what he’s been told, the 17 girls on varsity this year are the most a Taylor girls cross country team has ever had.

“We’re excited here. We mostly have everybody back. I think we lost one (girl),” said Smith, who returns as coach after taking four years off.

Smith said senior Sutty Godar and sophomore Lizzie Voss are the Yellow Jackets’ top two returning runners from last year. Senior Hayley Forschbach and sophomore Rachel Hardtke will both be dependable point scorers.

Smith also said he’s very excited about the underclassmen with six freshman and two sophomores logging big miles. The freshmen making an impact on varsity will be Taylor Howard, Bella Wentz and Clare Forbes.

Taylor won a five-team meet at Harrison Aug. 31. Forbes placed fourth at Harrison, and one of the teams Taylor beat was Indian Hill, a Cincinnati Hills League rival.

“They have that pack mentality, too,” said Smith. “They’re hungry. They’re young but they’re close as a team. I like that. They all get along and it’s just great to watch them. They’ve grown a lot since summer conditioning. I think they realize they can be very good.

“I think it will be an exciting year. They’ll have to run a perfect race to beat Wyoming in the CHL but I think they can do it; time will tell.”

It’s always difficult to replace graduated seniors when it comes to starting a new season.

For St. Ursula, it could be more difficult than usual when it comes to replacing the likes of Maria Weisgerber, Abby Weber, Caitlin Kelly and of course, Annie Heffernan.

Weisgerber, Kelly and Weber led the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish in the Girls Greater Catholic League meet.

Heffernan was hampered in the postseason by injury, but was regional champion after having a stellar career for the Bulldogs. In track, she defended her Division I state championship in the 1,600 meters (4:48.39) and also won a state title in the 3,200.

However, SUA and coach Dan Bird aren’t starting completely over.

Juniors Gracie Walter and Mary Fagel cut their teeth as sophomores by racing in the GGCL race and the district race.

Sophomores Margaret Breitenstein and Kathryn Miller played important roles for the Bulldogs, received all-conference recognition from the GGCL and should contribute again this season.

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