Members of Lincolnview’s boys and girls cross country teams got together for a post-race celebratory photograph following each squad clinching a berth in the OHSAA State Cross Country Championships at the regional race in Tiffin last weekend. The Lancers boys are making their fifth straight trip to Hebron. (Photo submitted)
Members of Lincolnview’s boys and girls cross country teams got together for a post-race celebratory photograph following each squad clinching a berth in the OHSAA State Cross Country Championships at the regional race in Tiffin last weekend. The Lancers boys are making their fifth straight trip to Hebron. (Photo submitted)

MIDDLE POINT – At 1:30 Saturday afternoon, the 20th-ranked Lincolnview boys cross country team will take off at the start of the Division III state championship race. This is not much of a surprise, because it will be the fifth straight year that the Lancers have done that. Nevertheless, the road hasn’t been all that easy.

“This was supposed to be our down year,” said junior Jacob Keysor. “We lost (via graduation) a state qualifier (Austin Elick). We lost another one of our top five (Tracey West, also via graduation). That was even before (junior) Alek (Bowersock) got hurt. We weren’t supposed to be as good as we are. Then we just trained hard and got into a bigger pack, and that got us to where we are now.”

Bowersock broke his foot during the summer, and his status was very much in doubt. Not to worry. Juniors Keysor and Karter Tow were back stronger than ever, Bowersock healed quickly, and sophomore Devon Bill improved remarkably throughout the season, giving the Lancers a top four that could compete with almost anybody.

Some team training changes also helped. “We did some changes this year,” said coach Matt Langdon. “We didn’t go to the pre-season invitational, we didn’t go to Wayne Trace, we didn’t go to Tiffin. We tried to race a little bit less, because we practiced a little harder…to make sure at the end of the season we were at our best. We won our district race. I thought sixth or seventh was probably the best we could do last weekend (at regionals), and we tied for third, so we clearly ran our best when we needed to. The girls train the same way, and they made it, so the things that we’ve done have definitely paid off for us.”

The surprising third place finish at Tiffin last Saturday was led by Bowersock (17th in 16:59.75), Keysor (18th in 17:00.19), Tow (22nd in 17:02.00), and Bill (56th in 17:42.15). Bowersock, Keysor, and Tow all had times that would have qualified them for state as individuals.

No doubt the team’s most pleasant surprise this season has been Bill, who was the team’s 7th man at last year’s state meet.

“He was the highest placing fourth man on any team in our regional; nobody came close to him,” said Langdon. “I haven’t looked at the whole state yet, but there are probably very few fourth men that were as good as he was. That’s one of the reasons our team did so well, we had four guys so far up that it really helped our overall score..”

Langdon was super-impressed with how his team performed last week on the hilly, muddy Tiffin course. The Lancers’ fifth man, and only senior, Noah Daeger, had a graphic description of his race there. “At the end of the race it was hard for me to even walk really, and it was so cold that my hands froze up, and I couldn’t untie my shoes even,” said Daeger. “It was definitely one of those races that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, because just the conditions and the amount of stress that I put on myself to get through that.”

The weather at Hebron’s National Trail Raceway this Saturday is likely to be rainy, which would suit the Lancers just fine, especially Bill and Bowersock, both of whom credited the Tiffin mud for Lincolnview’s excellent race. “I feel like the mud helped us, because it put all of that adrenaline in our bodies, like everybody is gonna see the mud and freak out,” said Bowersock, “but I felt like our team, we see the mud and we’re like, it’s mud, let’s go, let’s have some fun. I feel like that helped us, and personally it helped me to run a PR [personal record].”

Clearly, running against the best 20 teams in Ohio – plus about 45 individual qualifiers – this weekend will be a different experience, although Bowersock, Keysor, Tow, Bill and sophomore Joe Sadowski all ran at last year’s state meet, and Bowersock, Keysor and Tow were also there in 2015.

All seven runners are hoping for PR’s Saturday, and the team is expecting to better last year’s 20th place finish.

“I think something that will help us this year is that last year we were all disappointed because we didn’t feel like we ran our best,” said Tow. “I think there’s a lot of teams that when they make it down there, they’re just like ‘We’re down here, and it doesn’t matter how we run,’ but having that experience last year, we know we have a purpose to fulfill this year, to prove how good we actually can be.”

Coach Langdon said that the emotions going into state are much different from those going into regionals. Sadowski described it well: “The competition down there (at state) is a lot more fierce, but there’s almost a sense of relief that we made it, and we get to finish our season on such a great course and meet. It’s a little more of excitement adrenaline rather than nervous adrenaline, not like regionals.”

In addition to Bowersock, Keysor, Tow, Bill, Daeger and Sadowski, either sophomore Evan Cox or freshman Sam Wolfrum will be running Saturday, that decision not yet made at press time.

This will be Lincolnview’s seventh trip to state, the others coming in 1985 (finishing 9th), 1988 (11th), 2013 (12th), 2014 (10th), 2015 (13th), and 2016 (20th).