West Liberty-Salem boys cross country “a brotherhood”

The West Liberty-Salem boys cross country team had to take a detour when it came to their goals this season. Among them, the Big Orange wanted to be the state’s best team in Division III.

That changed when West Liberty-Salem’s enrollment numbers bumped them up to D-II, just two boys over the limit. Of the 207 programs in D-II this season West Liberty-Salem is the third smallest.

But they’re still coming up with some of the state’s best results. The Big Orange, who finished 13th at the D-III state meet last season, have moved into the lead pack in D-II with the No. 5 ranking in the state poll.

“That kind of added that chip on their shoulder,” coach Mike Loudon said of moving up a division. “That little guy mentality going into the season might have made them a little hungrier than what they’d been if they’d stayed Division III.

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“That was one thing I really sold to the guys. At this point it’s out of our control. All we can do is be the best we can possibly be in the division we’re placed in.”

With four state championships in the 1970s and 17 state appearances overall the Big Orange program has experienced success. What they’ve seldom had is depth like this season’s team.

Prior to this season, Loudon – now in his 14th season – never had three runners break the 17-minute mark in the same season. He’s had four runners do it this season.

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Sophomore Dylan Lauck ranks No. 3 on the Big Orange’s all-time list at 16:09. Sophomore Tate Yoder is No. 7 at 16:33 and senior Noah Smith is No. 8 at 16:34. Junior Josh Spinner, a transfer from Mechanicsburg, posted a 16:55.9 this season.

Senior Gavin Harrison, junior Hayden Kennedy and senior Cade Clerico, who is expected to return this week from a hamstring strain, also give the Big Orange that depth.

“It’s the brotherhood they have,” Loudon said. “The competition from within has probably been the biggest difference from most of the team’s I’ve had. They really do hold each other accountable and push each other, not just on workouts but on recovery days.

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“I’ve had some incredible teams. We’ve won a lot of district titles and we’ve been to state a couple of times, but this is the deepest team I’ve ever had. As far as quality, the top seven guys are on another level. … To be ranked fifth in the state in Division II right now says a lot about how good this team is right now.”

The boys team has qualified for the state meet four times since 2010. The girls, ranked No. 3 in the D-III state poll, have qualified six times. Both qualified last season and are strong contenders to return.

“When a program is that way both teams kind of feed off each other,” Loudon said. “Everybody cheers the other team on. It’s been a beneficial thing having all the teams competing at a high level.”

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