West Liberty-Salem dethrones four-time champ Minster at D-III state cross country

OBETZ – For four seasons Minster High School’s cross country team was the gold standard at the Division III cross country state meet with four straight titles.

On Saturday at Fortress Obetz near Columbus the new standard turned Big Orange.

West Liberty-Salem and Minster battled for the top two spots through the 3.1-mile course. And though she didn’t run it, watching the race likely left WL-S coach Ann Vogel feeling like she had. During the last mile Vogel bent over with her hands on her knees in nervous anticipation.

In the end, West Liberty-Salem ended Minster’s state title reign with an impressive 55-83 victory. The championship was the first in cross country for the Big Orange. And they did it with two seniors, a junior and four freshmen.

“These freshmen, I give a lot of thanks for them,” said senior Katelyn Stapleton. “They came in a we clicked. Our goal was to keep going meet after meet.”

Junior Megan Adams led the Big Orange with fifth-place overall in 18:43.5. The next two runners were freshmen – Ashley Yoder in eighth and Addison McAuley in 10th. Stapleton finished 18th, senior Madison Bahan 31st, freshman Kennedy Taylor in 89th and freshman Claire Longshore in 127th.

All week Vogel cautioned the Big Orange not to start out too fast, especially with temperatures unseasonably warm. It took some convincing but the runners put the advice into practice. Minster led the team standings after the first mile with a 14-point lead. West Liberty-Salem surged in the second mile to take a 18-point lead into the final mile.

“We told them be smart. Everyone is going to go out fast,” Stapleton said. “… As we say, no one ever wins it in the first mile. Our goal was to keep moving up.”

Minster came into the meet with two seniors, a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. At last week’s regional meet Minster finished runner-up to Liberty Center. Teams might have felt Minster was vulnerable. Not WL-S.

“They always show up. Fort Loramie and Liberty Center always show up,” Bahan said. “We definitely did not count them out. … Just as long as we did our best that’s all we could ask for.”

“It was definitely tough in the beginning of the season, not knowing if we would even have a postseason. We just had to have faith and keep on pushing even though we didn’t know the outcome.”

On Sept. 12 West Liberty-Salem hosted the Meet of Champions that included Minster, Mount Gilead, Fort Loramie and Shawnee. WL-S won with 31 points to top runner-up Minster by 34 points. That was perhaps the confidence boost the Big Orange needed to get ahead of Minster on Saturday. Minster finished second at state, Fort Loramie was fourth and Mount Gilead sixth.

“I think Minster is always in the back of our mind,” Adams said. "This season we were very confident if we kept working as a team we could be unbeatable. We didn’t want to let them occupy our thoughts but know they are there.

“I’m so proud of this team. We do our best to pack up together and work as a force. I think that’s where we’re stronger than other teams. We don’t care what place we are on the team. We just care about the team as a whole.”

In D-III boys, Cedarville senior Ethan Wallis finished eighth to pace the Indians' seventh-place finish. Cedarville entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the state by the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country coaches.

“It was not good. I woke up feeling a little trashy so I was a little afraid,” Wallis said of dealing with sinus problems. "I think I let that get to my head a little bit. We were going fast the first two miles and halfway through that second one I lost it. It got in my head and I kind of gave up.

“We worked our butts off this year. It was exciting. (It stinks we don’t get it,) but it’s just a cross country meet in the end.”

Senior Trent Koning finished 46th and was followed by sophomore Caleb Sultan (77th), senior Payton Herron (97th), junior Drew Mason (126th), freshman Isaac Wallis (137th) and sophomore Ben Ormsbee (150th).

In the girls D-III meet, Cedarville senior Ellyn Coe finished 26th overall.

In D-II boys, West Liberty-Salem finished 12. Junior Dylan Lauck led the Big Orange with 12th and was followed by junior Tate Yoder (43rd), sophomore Michael Jones (106th), sophomore Owen Harrison (114th), senior Josh Spinner (119th), senior Hayden Kennedy (122nd) and junior Ayden Estep (154th).

Shawnee sent a pair of individuals in the D-II meet. Junior Audrey DeSantis finished 17th and junior Jordyn Dillavou was 28th.