The girls running in a pack during the regional meet Saturday in Tiffin. (DHI Media/ Larry Heiing)
The girls running in a pack during the regional meet Saturday in Tiffin. (DHI Media/ Larry Heiing)

Saving the best for last.

That phrase best describes the D-II girls cross country Regional race held Saturday at Hedges-Boyer Park in Tiffin. Not only was the race one of the last races of the day, Caylee Phillips of Van Wert saved just enough in her tank for the come from behind victory in the best finish of the day.

Phillips jumped out to a great start despite the muddy starting lanes to lead the race coming out of the first quarter mile. Caylee then faded a bit behind the state super power trio from Lexington of Halle Hamilton, Joanna Halfhill and Carina Weaver at the 1 mile mark. Staying within striking distance, Phillips remained in fourth place entering the final turn heading towards the finish line. With 200 meters to go, Phillips kicked into high gear first passing Weaver, then Halfhill and nipping Hamilton by .2 seconds in an exciting photo finish to win the Regional championship. The Cougar junior captured the well fought title with a time of 18:34.70 edging out Hamilton (18:34.98), Halfhill (18:38), and Weaver (18:44).

“I have never experienced something like that in my 9 years of coaching” exclaimed Van Wert coach Ryan Holliday. “She was down over 15 meter with 150 to go and showed as much grit and determination as I’ve ever seen. What she did simply doesn’t happen at the Regional level. She came in with a simple race plan-run with the leaders and then give it everything at the end” continued Holliday. “Although it certainly was a individual victory-it was really a team victory. Her teammates, both girls and guys, were all over the course and helped will her to victory. After the race, Caylee told me that her only thought was after she crossed the line was ‘I want my team’.

Lexington occupied 5 out of the 10 top spots to easily win the girls D-II team title with a near perfect score of 19. Ontario (117) was second and Toledo St. Ursula (125) was third to move onto the State meet.

The Van Wert boys team experienced the agony of being close, but not close enough as only the top 3 teams and top 12 individuals move on to the State meet in D-II. The Cougar duo of Jacob Wasson (17:04) and Gage Chiles (17:05) posted great times finishing in back-to-back fashion but a few spots short of their goal in 18th and 19th place. Freshman Hunter Sherer (37th, 17:36), Holden Reichert (58th, 17:59), Gage Wannemacher (60th,18:11), Jacob Sealscott (78th, 19:17), and James Hagaman ( 19:52) completed the Van Wert squad.

The Cougars boys team ended with 145 points putting them only one spot of moving on

being Regional champion Shleby (32), Lexington (64), and Milton Edison (94).

Kyle Johnston of Lexington won the boys D-II race in 15:32 over Caleb Brown (15:48) and Sam Logan (15:51) of Shelby.

History was made Saturday by Columbus Grove as both the girls and boys teams qualified for the State meet in the same year for the first time in school history.

The girls team placed 6th as D-III Region 10 took the top 8 teams and top 32 individuals to the next level. Alyssa Ellerbrock lead the Lady Bulldogs with an 11th place finish in 19:34 and Erin Downing (24th, 20:05). Rounding out the Columbus Grove girls were Leanndra Price (38th, 20:41), Morgan Deffenbaugh (21:59), Emily Schumacher (22:28), Zoe Stechschulte (22:34), and Hannah Schroeder (23:21).

“I was very proud of how the team performed today, especially how well they moved forward through the field in the second part of the race” commented Columbus Grove girls coach Jason Jay. “We finished 6th as a team and put 2 in the top 25 to move on to the State meet. We set out with the goal of qualifying and did a good job of achieving that goal in possibly the toughest D-III Regional in the State. We have finished in the top 10 at State the past 2 years and have that goal once again this year.” continued Jay. “This is going to be an exciting week as this marks the first time in school history that both the boys and girls have qualified to the same State meet.”

The Bulldog boys made it to the ultimate goal with a 4th place finish in D-III. Johnny Schmiedebusch finished right were Coach Terry Schnipke wanted him to be-near the front with a second place time of 16:21. Freshman Carson Closson (17:16) and senior Jordan Bellman (17:17) were next for the Bulldogs followed by Caleb Stechschulte (17:27), Breece Pingle (18:02), Tanner Smith (18:05), and Tayden Pingle (18:46).

“The Regional race is a strange animal with teams that are strong all year sometimes struggling, which we saw today” said Bulldogs boys coach Terry Schnipke. “The there are teams who really surprise everyone and exceed expectations. While we had hoped to finish a higher in the standings, we understand the race doesn’t always go as expected. We had two guys not best their best race today, but others ran their personal best. Schmiedebusch knocked 30 seconds of his best and was pushing Noah Fischer (last years Regional champion from Ayersville) most of the race. Our school and conference will be well represented at State with 5 teams going between the girls and boys.”

The Parkway Panther boys finished just like their Van Wert neighbors, one spot short of qualifying for state. D-III Region 10 takes the top 7 teams and top 28 individuals and Parkway landed heartbreakingly close in the 8th slot with 249 points. Good news for the Panthers that their most consistent runners of Matt Gaerke (8th, 16:41) and Kyle Roth (14th, 16:48) will be moving to the State meet after qualifying as individuals.

Lincolnview finished runner-up in the boys team standings with 143 points, only 14 points shy of champion New London (129). Alek Bowersock once again lead the Lancers with a third place finish in 16:25. Jacob Keysor finished in the top 20 at 16:54, followed by Karter Tow (24th, 16:55), Devon Bill (62nd, 17:38), Collin Puckett (17:45), Daegan Hatfield (18:18) and Joe Sadowski (18:31) comprised the Lancers squad.

“The boys were very loose and relaxed before the race and that is a credit to our Seniors with their understanding of the moment” explained Lancer coach Matt Langdon. “I loved how smart we ran and how hard we fought to finish. It was great to see it all come together on this day at Regionals with 3 boys individually qualify for State and our 4th-7th guys had great days as well. The boys ran one of their best team races of the season.”

Lincolnview will also be sending their girls team to State as well as the Lady Lancers finished just ahead of Columbus Grove (234) with 225 points for 5th place. Sophomore Madison Landon placed the Lancers with a time of 20:08 for 26th place. Although Madison was the only Lancer in the top 50, Lincolnview used a strong showing in the middle of the standings to earn their high team finish. Brayden Langdon (54th, 21:06), Victoria Snyder (56th, 21:08), Julia Stetler (77th, 21:28), Madeline Snyder (96th, 21:51), Rylee Byrne (22:42) and Dylann Carey (24:15) ran for the Lancers.

“The girls have been running very well the last month and they just continued that on one of the biggest cross country stages” said Coach Langdon. “Madison was able to qualify individually and Brayden took nearly a full minute off her season best. Our pack finished close behind and allowed us to beat a great Columbus Grove team and nearly beat state ranked Coldwater. The girls showed tremendous fight and heart and it showed in their eyes during the race. No one was going to take it from them.”

Also in the mix of teams advancing to State was the Crestview Knights. Crestview finished with 266 points to grab the 8th and final slot in D-III. Ragen Harting qualified as an individual with a time of 19:54 which was good enough for 18th place. Emily Greulach (42nd, 20:56.04) and teammate Lauren Walls (43rd, 20:56.84) ran side-by-side for the entire course as the freshman duo crossed the finish line together. Lizzie Bowen (90th, 21:39), Adalynn Longsteth (23:25), Kenzie Leeth (24:20), and Lydia Saylor (24:42) made up the Knight’s State qualifying team.

The lone Crestview male to compete for Crestview at Regionals was Wyatt Richardson. The junior rounded the hilly course in 18:18 for 109th place in the 186 runner field.

Ottoville’s Nolan German ran a 18:12 for 99th place.

Spencerville freshman Lillie Stewart continued her successful varsity season with her eyes focused on a State meet birth. She achieved her goal with a perfect vision time of 20:20.47 to earn 30th place and a ticket for State.

The Delphos St. John’s girls team made their first appearance at Regionals in 20 years on Saturday. Kambrynn Rohr lead the Lady Jays around the frightfully muddy course in 21:08 for 55th place. Freshman Kitty Kopack was right behind her Blue Jay teammate in 59th position with a personal best time of 21:11. Regional qualifier from last year, Jenia Freewalt who has battling a nagging injury this season, gutted out a time of 22:00 and sophomore Rylee Pohlman conquered the hills in 22:15. Senior Caroline Kopack ran her final race for the Blue Jays in 22:30 to end her 6 year career with the St. John’s program. Freshman Abby Shafer (23:26) and Adara Fuerst (24:34) rounded out the Blue Jay squad that had the most successful season for St. Johns in years.

“We knew going into Regionals that we were going to have to run a very good race and get some help to finish in the top 8 to qualify for State” remarked 9th year Blue Jay coach Steve Hellman. “Our girls ran a good race but it was just not quite good enough. We are going to miss our senior Caroline Kopack next season but we are still a young team and will learn from this experience. With 8 out of 9 runners returning next season, we will take this experience from a very successful season to grow and come back even better next year” ended Hellman.

Minster won the girls D-III title again with only 35 points. Coldwater (214) was 4th, Lincolnview (225) 5th, Columbus Grove (234) 6th, Crestview (266) 8th, Fort Recovery (298) 9th, and Delphos St. John’s girls were 12th with 348 points.

The State cross country meet will be held on Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Columbus beginning with the boys D-III race taking off at 11 a.m. The D-III girls races begins at 1:30 p.m. and D-II ladies run at 2:15 p.m.