Over the last year, Oak Hills has been waiting. Its boys cross country program came up one spot (fifth) shy of qualifying to the Division I regional meet as a team.
It’s an unpleasant feeling, one that coach Joe Zeinner said left his team disappointed but also hungry to rebound this year.
Zeinner didn’t coach Oak Hills last year. He said it was his second season away from the program, but he “still paid close attention.” Zeinner’s now in his fifth season overall as coach at Oak Hills, and his current senior class ran under Zeinner as freshmen so there’s still a familiarity within the program.
Zeinner said the Highlanders, ranked No. 5 in The Enquirer Division I area coaches’ poll, lost only two runners from the district meet last season, but they’ve also added a lot of talent.
Senior Tom Seibert’s a team captain and a four-year varsity runner. Zeinner said Seibert was one of his runners as a freshman and it’s “great to come back and see how much he’s grown … he’s had a fantastic summer; really look for him to lead this team.”
Sophomores Drew Toon, Chris Guy and Mitch Luken were all part of the district team last season, Zeinner said, and they’ve all improved. They’re just part of the youth movement, which will provide stability to the program for years to come.
Senior Anthony Papathanas didn’t race at the district meet last year, but Zeinner said he’s had a “phenomenal” summer and he should help contribute to the scoring in only his second year in the sport.
“They just work hard,” said Zeinner. “This is my fifth summer as an Oak Hills coach and during the summer, you don’t have to be at summer practice. It’s not mandatory, but we probably had 25-28 guys every single day this summer. They have unbelievable team chemistry. Everybody counts on this team, everybody contributes … We’ve had some good teams at Oak Hills and this team really stands out.”
The distance never changes, but this year there’s a new purple pack running cross country at Elder.
The Panthers are coming off another successful season and they’ll need some new faces to fill in big-time roles. Last season, Elder won two events at the Finish Timing Invitational and the Lebanon Invitational. The Panthers were third in the Greater Catholic League South, third at the district meet and 10th at the regional meet last season. Elder graduated its two all-conference runners in Eric Huff and Michael Huschart.
This year, senior co-captains Kyle Kehling and Eric Ostertag will lead the Panthers. Coach Steve Spencer said his team’s other top seniors are Brady Bohan, Kyle Kroeger, Drew Mack and Danny Theders. Several underclassmen in junior Ryan Schenkel and sophomores Jacob Melvin and Nick Merk will provide some depth to the lineup.
“Our Southwest regional will, as usual, be quite a challenge, but we should be in contention for a top-four finish, which qualifies to the state championship (meet),” Spencer said. “This year’s team is hard-working with high goals. We lost a couple front runners from last year due to graduation, but we should have a stronger pack this season. We should, once again, surprise some people this year.”
Ostertag placed sixth and Kroeger was ninth at the Sycamore Sunset Invitational Aug. 24. At the Finish Timing Invitational Aug. 29, Kroeger was 19th and ran 17:19.0, followed by Kehling in 20th and a time of 17:20.1.
Jeff Smith returned to Taylor this year after a four-year coaching hiatus and his boys cross country returns all but one its runners from last year’s regional-qualifying team.
Smith said the Yellow Jackets have been “running well.” With only eight guys on the team Smith said it’s imperative they stick together.
“I like the fact they’re running in a nice pack,” said Smith. “I’ve been stressing that all summer, (telling them) ‘you guys have to try and run together and help each other.’ So far, they’ve been doing that.”
Junior Brad Greene, who was a Cincinnati Hills League first team selection last year, will lead the pack again this year.
Kaden Wells and Jacob Bayer, two of Taylor’s three seniors who ran last year, return with senior Shane Hofmeyer who’s running for the first time this year.
Juniors Jacob Pickelsimer and Nic Triplett return with experience, as do sophomores Nick Fox and Robby Martini.
“They work hard,” Smith said. “They want to win the CHL and possibly have someone go to state, (those are) their goals.”
On Aug. 29 at Voice of America Park, the Yellow Jackets raced against mostly Division I schools and Smith said, “I thought that would be a good test for them.” On Aug. 31 at Harrison, Taylor finished second overall, seven points behind Indian Hill.
St. Xavier has a rich history of racing deep into October and November — the championship months. But, the Bombers know the preparation starts long before the leaves begin their transformation. And, for the boys in blue to have another season like 2014 they’ll need some new faces to log some meaningful miles.
St. Xavier was third as a team at state last season, as well as a regional runner-up, district champion and Greater Catholic League South champion for the fourth straight year. But, Michael Vitucci, last season’s individual Division I state champion now running at the University of Cincinnati, and Brad Eagan, who finished 10th at state and now runs at Marquette, both graduated.
Only two starters return in junior Chris Reischel and senior Austin Angeline. Reischel, who was second-team All-GCL South last season, was part of the team that raced at state. Angeline missed the postseason last year because of a broken toe so he’s eager for another shot.
After that, it becomes difficult for second-year coach Andy Wietmarschen to definitively say who’ll play pivotal roles this season. It’s not due to a lack of talent, though. Quite the opposite, actually.
Wietmarschen said at the Moeller Invitational, where St. X finished second, junior Liam McGrath and sophomores Peter Dauenhauer and Jonathon Stansbury rounded out the scoring with the top five spots. Junior Jack Cordonier ran sixth for the Bombers at the Moeller Invite.
“We have probably three or four other guys in the mix to be that fifth guy on any given day,” Wietmarschen said.
“I think it’s just exciting we have a whole new cast of characters here this season. The one consistent thing is that our program really hangs it hat on is that our guys our hungry. We talk probably too much about the past (years, teams, etc.) and this year we’re hammering home ‘Live in the present.’ We don’t really care what happened last year, five years or 20 years ago. I wanna know what (these) guys can do this year and they’ve responded.”
The St. Xavier Invitational is Oct. 3 on St. Xavier’s campus. There’s a community race open to anyone at 8 a.m. and the high school race starts at 9 a.m.
During coach Frank Russo’s 33 years coaching cross country at La Salle, he’s watched the program progress into a state powerhouse. And, after a “rebuilding” phase, Russo said the Lancers “are now back.”
“Last year, we had a huge breakthrough, second in the GCL, third in the district and sixth in the region,” Russo said. “That’s our goal this year to advance back to the state championship and contend.”
The Lancers will be led this year by senior Brad Anneken, who finished second overall in the first meet of the year at the Finish Timing Invitational at Wilmington College. Joining Anneken will be senior Frank Pierce, senior Nick Wuestefeld, junior Jaylen Hasan, junior Cameron Sewell, senior Jason Handley and Tyler Shelton.
Russo said Wuestefeld was fifth at Wilmington and he’s “starting to come into his own.”
Russo said this team is characteristic of what La Salle’s program has become over the years. “They all define this blue-collar work ethic, they’re highly competitive, durable and will attack anything from a practice standpoint that you put in front of them,” said Russo. “They’re all self-made and work extremely hard.”
Watching a team work and train gives Russo a feel of who they are and how far along they are.
“Our guys are training at a championship level from what we’ve done in the past,” Russo said. “They’re believing in themselves and each other and that comes with the way in which the season unfolds and the day to day grind these guys go through together. By the end of the year the most important this is to stay healthy.”