Lincolnview senior Ben Bilimek nears the finish line at the Van Wert Hospital Cross Country Invitational on Saturday. (Times Bulletin/John Parent)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT- The state-ranked Van Wert cross country teams both had excellent showings at the Van Wert County Hospital Cross Country Invitational on Saturday morning.
The boys team compiled a meet-best 55 points to take home the crown in the Scarlet division race, out-pacing Bryan, who placed second, and Tiffin Columbian, who had a third place finish despite having the top two individual runners in the race.
Junior Connor Holliday finished the reservoir course with a time of 16:57, which was sixth-best overall and fastest among Van Wert's runners. Classmate Connor Shaffer placed 10th with a time of 17:28 and the Cougars put three more runners in the top 15 with junior Jordan Butler (17:45), junior Daniel Perry (17:46) and sophomore Cade Fleming (17:50) placing 12th, 13th and 14th, respectively.
Parkway's team was led by a top-20 finish from freshman Caleb Rollins, who posted a time of 18:08 for the Panthers. Junior Seth Rollins placed 55th for Parkway with a time of 19:31 and Justin Thomas ran a 21:50 and was the third-fastest Panther in the race.
The Lady Cougars placed sixth in their race, which was won by a strong Minster squad. Senior Andi Foster was the top finisher for Van Wert, placing 20th with a time of 21:10.
Schelissa Williams came in at 21:29 for the Lady Cougars, which was good enough for 25th overall among the 159 girls in the Scarlet division race. Van Wert also got a top-30 effort from freshman Natalie Riethman, who posted a time of 21:43.
Lincolnview's boys also had a strong showing at the invitational while running in the Gray division. The Lancers placed second overall with 74 points, between meet winner New Bremen and third place Minster, both of whom are state-ranked squads. Crestview's boys placed fourth in the race, which was an outstanding effort for the Knights.
Leading the way for the Lancers was junior Bayley Tow, who came in second among individual runners behind race winner Andy Albers of Minster. Tow's time was 17:16.While Tow was the fastest Lancer, you didn't have to wait long at the finish line to see a whole host of blue-and-gold runners come through with outstanding races. Alex Rodriguez continued his strong season with a seventh place effort on Saturday, racing to a time of 17:47 and teammate Ben Bilimek was 12th at 18:02. Travis Lippi had a time of 18:30 for the Lancers, which was 21st overall, and Colton Snyder posted a time of 18:51. Tracey West (19:04), Trevor Neate (19:09) and Tyler Brant (19:52) all had sub-20 minute times while Troy Thompson came in at 20:07 for a 63rd place effort.
"The boys really fought hard today," noted Lancer coach Matt Langdon. "We have really been working hard in practice and I was anxious to see how we would respond if our legs were not fresh. I liked the fight that I saw."
While Langdon was thrilled with the second place effort, he knows his team may have had an advantage over some of the stronger teams in the race. "We benefited from some of the other teams not being completely healthy, but late in the season, that is part of it, can you get all your guys to the line healthy."
While the Lancers have had a terrific season thus far, Langdon says his team has to stay the course. "We still have another 3 weeks or so of really focused work so we will have to see what we look like once we come out the other side of that."
Junior Mycah Grandstaff was the top among Crestview's runners with a sixth-place effort in the Gray division race. His time of 17:43 placed him just ahead of Rodriguez. Fellow Knight Charles Thornburg came in with a very solid 17:57 time to give Crestview two of the race's top 10 runners.
Branden Clayton and Copsey Bogle crossed the finish line just two seconds apart at 18:30 and 18:32, respectively to place in the top 25 of the race. Adam Saylor posted a time of 19:29 for the Knights and Cody Mefferd ran a 19:44 mark with Eli Jones crossing in 20:02.
Crestview and Lincolnview both placed near the bottom of the girls race in team times, but Lincolnview got a strong race from Anna Gorman, who was 14th as an aindividual in the Gray division with a time of 22:16 for the Lady Lancers. Langdon has high hopes for Gorman as the season wears on.
"Anna has looked really good in practice and we are just waiting for her to bust out. Once we begin to rest and taper our training I think she is going to start to see her times really drop as we move towards the tournament."
Crestview was led by Brooke Ripley, a freshman, who crossed the finish line in 23:27 to best the ties of teammates Chelsea Hancock (23:44) and Hali Finfrock (23:55). Finfrock's 41st place effort was one spot ahead of Lincolnview's Abbie Enyart, who ran the race in 24:07.