From left, Mike Wallace, Nick Homan, Sean O'Connell and Jacob Barnes lead the Northview boys cross country team in practice.
The Northview boys and girls cross country teams have used last year's state meet as motivation.
But the motivation of the two squads is quite different.
For the Wildcat boys, last year's meet was a disappointment because they didn't qualify as a team for the first time since 2003.
“When we didn't make it back to state, this team became really motivated,” boys coach Ross Deye said. “A lot of our guys know that they won't have another high school cross country season, so they are really focused on this year.”
The Wildcats have a veteran lineup that features senior Jacob Barnes, who ran as an individual in last year's state meet. Barnes has been joined by four other seniors — Sean O'Connell, Nick Homan, Harry Zeitler and Derek Pohlman — scattered through the top seven positions.
The rest of the lineup usually includes juniors Kevin McKown and Mike Wallace as well as freshman Kyle Brooks.
“Every one of our guys has been doing the miles and putting in the work,” said Deye, now in his 11th season at Northview. “You score five [runners] in cross country, but generally you need six to have some insurance. We have seven or eight.”
Northview senior Meredith Wagner finished in 12th place in last year's Division I state girls meet.
For the girls, last year's state meet provided a different impetus: the program's first team appearance at that meet gave them the desire to do whatever it takes to return.
“We had so much fun with the success we had last year, it was motivating for us,” girls coach Jon Monheim said. “That's why you run in big meets: you want to go back.”
The girls are led by senior Meredith Wagner, who last year finished 12th at the state meet. This year she started with a bang, finishing second in the prestigious Division I-A race at the Tiffin Carnival. Last week she finished first at the prestigious Culver (Ind.) Academy Invitational.
“What she has done this year is take things to another level,” Monheim said of Wagner. “She had a great season with a big jump forward last year.
“I think the reason [for her success] is that, for the first time in four years, she's been able to get consistent training.
“Because of injuries or whatever, she hasn't been able to do that year-round. I think, because of her talent and training, she's become one of the best runners in the state.”
Freshman Abby Masters has stepped into the second spot, while sophomore Moe Dean runs third. Senior Nicole Mangas and juniors Mackenzie Reeves and Erin Koffman are the only other upperclassmen, with depth coming from sophomore Alison Work and freshmen Janelle Noe and Kelly MacMillan.
“We knew these younger runners were coming, and we knew they were good, but we're still a little surprised,” said Monheim, who is in his fifth season as coach. “Our depth last year was a little bit of a weakness, so that's where they help us the most.”
Both teams have earned a state ranking this season, with the boys standing fourth in Division I while the girls are seventh. But both coaches said their teams are unaffected by those rankings.
Front, from left, Meredith Wagner, Moe Dean and Abby Masters lead the Northview girls team through a workout.
“Our guys are excited about the state ranking, but they are able to put it in perspective,” Deye said. “They know it's a reward for the hard work they have put in.
“But they also know it means little; the best effort they give for 17 minutes each Saturday means a lot.”
Monheim agreed, adding, “The beauty of this team is that none of these girls pay any attention to that stuff. The only poll that matters is the one taken at Scioto Downs on the first weekend in November.”
Monheim refers to the state meet, but he also is quick to point out that the road to that event won't be an easy one to travel.
“We know that Notre Dame [ranked 11th] is really good, a very strong team,” he said. “And we know the Northern Lakes League as a whole is strong. But we also know that facing that caliber of competition makes us better.”
And while the two programs often work separately during the week, both coaches are pleased and excited that both are tasting success.
“Some times when you see one program at a school is good and the other isn't, you wonder why,” Deye said. “While we are separate programs, we pass each other on the workout trails, and we hang together at meets.
“And I think we both want to see the other do well. At the Culver Invitational last weekend, we finished fourth — our first finish in the top 10 — and they were third. Only one school had a better combined finish, and I think that says a lot about both of our programs.”
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6481.