Cross Country: Shawnee girls, boys eager to move up state ladder

SPRINGFIELD – It’s becoming tradition for the Shawnee High School boys and girls cross country teams to end the season at the state meet. The boys have qualified the past six seasons. The girls have gone two straight.

And to hear senior Joel Rodgers talk about it, expect both to end up at Hebron’s National Trail Raceway again in November.

“I think a lot of the returning guys expect it,” said boys coach Brian DeSantis. “Joel Rogers pretty much told them it’s not optional.”

The girls return their top seven runners from last year’s team that finished 10th in the Division II state championship. The boys return four of their top seven from last year’s team that finished eighth at state.

“I would hope we have a good shot at (returning to state),” said girls coach Kim Wise. “That’s something we’re working for.”

Shawnee kicked off the season Saturday at the Bob Schul Invitational at Milton-Union High School. Both teams got an early test and a feel for where they rank at one of the state’s biggest meets.

Seniors Sophie Smith, Morgan Huggins and Rebecca Penrose lead a girls team that looks to build on last season’s state run. Smith finished 18th overall in the D-II state finals last season (18:58.8). She was followed by Huggins (31st), junior Grace Holmes (57), Penrose (88), junior Emma Schmid (110), junior Miah DeSantis (126) and junior Kelsey Lloyd (131).

To prepare for this season the Braves participated in a team camp in Tiffin this summer. The training was beneficial, but the bonding experience – with both the boys and the girls even more dialed into the team-first attitude – might be the difference maker in Shawnee’s bid to move up in the state.

“It was a really great experience for the team. I think we really needed it,” Wise said. “It kind of helped us regroup and figure out what’s important to us this year.

“I think that’s going to help more than anything. … This year we’re focusing even more on the team effort than the individual effort.”

With a deep roster – the Braves girls are 20 runners strong – Wise said she wants her runners to take some chances during races. That might mean battling for the number one spot or trying to crack into the top seven.

“We do have some depth on the team and if someone is having an off day, we can look to someone else to step it up,” Wise said. “It can take some pressure off the girls and allow them to take some chances knowing other girls have their back. That’s the kind of stuff we talked about at camp. That they can depend on each other. It doesn’t really matter who our number one runner is. Whoever is having our best day go for it.”

For the boys, Rodgers (79th at state; 17:09.6) ) and Josh Hayes (96) are seniors. Juniors Dylan Holland and Bailey Hoelscher and sophomores Will Geist (119) and Ethan Griffith (130) compete with freshmen Lucas Davis, Alex Dyer, Josh Fogt and Drew Vest for the top seven.

“I think they’ve got the best early-season, complete-team cohesion and support that I’ve ever seen,” said DeSantis, adding this might be the most talented group of freshmen he’s had on the roster. “I think that’s going to make them a great team in itself. They know they’re out there to compete for one another against other teams.

“I really like this team. I believe they can carry on the tradition that we’ve seen the last few years.”

The Braves started a new tradition of sorts this season, too. Through parental and community support, Shawnee built a shelter house in the woods where they train. It has running water and electricity and even a cow trough for ice baths.

“It’s not overly fancy,” DeSantis said, “but it is for us.”

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