Van Wert’s boys cross country team ran a strong race at the Ottawa district meet two weeks ago, then finished third at Regionals. The Cougars will compete at State this weekend. (DHI Media/Pat Agler, file)
Van Wert’s boys cross country team ran a strong race at the Ottawa district meet two weeks ago, then finished third at Regionals. The Cougars will compete at State this weekend. (DHI Media/Pat Agler, file)
VAN WERT – This Saturday at 2:15 the unranked Van Wert boys cross country team will toe the starting line at National Trail Raceway for the Division II state championship race. There were may times during the season when the chances of getting there didn’t look all that great.

“It’s been a season full of adversity, a lot of hurdles, a lot of bumps in the road, things that happen that are out of our control,” said coach Ryan Holliday. “For example, I think we went a month-plus, from the beginning of September until the post season started, where we didn’t have a single workout with all of these guys, but all that adversity just made us stronger. It all came together when it counted, starting shortly before WBL.”

The Cougars put it all together last Saturday on the muddy, hilly Tiffin regional course, finishing third out of 10 teams, which was just good enough to extend the season one more week. Van Wert was paced by junior Calahan Wolfrum (9th in 16:32.10), freshman Jacob Wasson (16th, 16:50.53), and junior Gage Chiles (23rd, 17:20.82). The Cougs also got solid performances from sophomore Holden Reichert (29th, 17:28.25), sophomore Keaton Brown (30th, 17:30.37), sophomore Charlie Pauquette (53rd, 18:04.11) and senior Max Sealscott (64th, 18:40.25).

“I think we handled the (Tiffin) conditions great, mentally and physically,” said Reichert. “We pushed ourselves to get where we wanted to be. I think everyone just stuck with it, trusted the training while we were racing, we weren’t thinking about ourselves, just thinking about the team and where we wanted to be this upcoming Saturday.”

Clearly, running against the best 20 teams in Ohio – plus approximately 60 individual qualifiers – this weekend will be a different experience. Wolfrum, who qualified as an individual last year, is the only one to have done this before.

“What’s different than any other race is that every racer has the mentality that it’s gonna be their last race, so the first mile goes out very hard,” said Wolfrum. “It would be best for us to not get caught up in that – try to separate ourselves from that mentality, so we can run a smart race and run our best at the end when everyone’s exhausted from going out too hard the first mile.”

Van Wert ran in the OHSAA Pre-Season Invitational on Aug. 19, so the Cougars will be familiar with the National Trail course. They’ve also already seen some of the best runners in the state, so not being among the lead runners will not be new.

“We have run at plenty of big meets this year,” said Chiles. “We’re kinda used to it, having good competition and being in the back of the race. We’re gonna be prepared for it. It’s not really gonna affect us any, no matter where we’re at; we still have our goals that we want to accomplish, and we’re ready to do this on Saturday.”

All seven of the runners are hoping to set a season’s PR at the state meet. For three of the them, that PR came at Tiffin – Wolfrum’s 16:32, Chiles’s 17:20, and Reichert’s 17:28. Wasson’s PR is 16:36, Brown’s is 17:20, Pauquette’s is 17:54, and Sealscott’s is 17:56. Wolfrum and Wasson are shooting for a top-25 (all-Ohio) finish. The others are hoping to be in the top 100 or top 150 – not a given, considering the competition.

“We’re really fortunate to be competing at this level,” said Holliday. “We try to set goals that are challenging but realistic as well. Those are the individual goals, but if we finish top 10 as a team, then it’s been a really excellent race. It’s an incredible amount of competition, but we’re ready for it.”

This will be Van Wert’s ninth trip to the state meet. The others came in 1982 (finished 10th), 1987 (6th), 1988 (2nd), 1993 (11th), 1998 (9th), 2011 (7th), 2013 (10th), and 2014 (11th).

“The support that we’ve received already from the school and the parents in the community has just been incredible,” added Holliday. “This is an experience that these guys will take with them for the rest of their lives. We want to bring as much recognition to our school and to our athletic community as possible, and this is our way to do that.”