The Cougars get a confidence boost with a preseason number one ranking, but still must do what’s expected to return to state. (DHI Media file photo)
The Cougars get a confidence boost with a preseason number one ranking, but still must do what’s expected to return to state. (DHI Media file photo)
By John Parent
DHI Media Sports Editor
VAN WERT — Coming off a historic 2013 cross country season, the Van Wert Cougars are once again expected to be a force in Division II.
Despite a rich tradition in the sport, never before had the Cougars send both their boys and girls squads to the state meet in the same season, a feat they accomplished last fall. The boys advanced to the state meet after a runner-up finish at the regional, where they were narrowly defeated by Defiance. The Bulldogs went on to win the state title, while Van Wert placed 10th.
Meanwhile, the Lady Cougars surprised many by advancing to Hebron and placed 16th at state.
On Thursday, the Ohio Association on Track and Cross Country Coaches (OATCCC) revealed its preseason poll and the Cougars boys will open the season ranked number one in Division II. The boys team received six first-place votes and 166 points overall. Tippecanoe is ranked second with 147 points. The girls team shows up at number 22 in their poll.

“We return all seven guys that ran last year at the state meet, so (voters) understand that we have a good core group coming back,” Cougars coach Brendan Moody explained. “We try not to put too much stock in polls, because it’s just paper, but at the same time, it is validation for all of their (the runners) hard work and dedication.”
Of course, a preseason ranking doesn’t mean much, except that the Cougars will have a target on their back, and, perhaps, a bit of added pressure this season.
“The first week that we go down to Greenville (August 30), we’ll see the numbers one, two, three and four teams in our division, so we’ll figure out whether we’re as good as we think we are or whether it’s just on paper,” Moody added, noting that the Cougars aren’t shying away from stiff competition.
A 22nd-ranking and a state trip are nothing sneeze at for the Lady Cougars, but the girls team can get overshadowed by the highly-touted boys.
“They tend to take a back seat because the guys are getting a lot of love,” Moody said of his girls team. “But they (the girls) are a good program. We’re very young this year, losing three of our top five from last year, but we have three youngsters (freshmen) that we expect to run in our top-five.”
In Division III, Lincolnview returns a strong core of runners from a boys team that placed 12th at state last year. The OATCCC has the Lancers ranked 10th to open the season, four spots behind Northwest Conference rival Columbus Grove.
“That’s a cool thing to have happen,” noted Lancer coach Matt Langdon. “I think it reflects the potential that we have this year. We have five guys coming back from the team that ran at state last year.”
Like Moody, Langdon added that his squad will still have to go out and perform.
“It’s good motivation for the kids, I think it validates all the hard work they’ve put in this summer, but at the same time, we have done anything yet.”
The Lancers battled Grove throughout the 2013 season, but came away with a win at the NWC meet and a conference championship. Still, Langdon knows it’s a rivalry that makes both teams better.
“It’s fun,” Langdon added of his team’s familiarity with the Bulldogs. “We were fortunate, at the conference meet, to beat them, but then they beat us at the regional meet. It’s a fun rivalry, it gets the kids excited to run against them.”