COLUMBUS GROVE ó If last seasonís performance is a good indication of whatís to come, then the Columbus Grove boys cross country team should be glowing with excitement.
Last fall, Columbus Grove finished seventh at the Division III state meet in Hebron. The Bulldogs also won the Northwest Conference title, as well as the district crown.
This fall, Columbus Grove returns seven of its top eight runners from a year ago.
Leading the list of returners is senior Jake Graham. Last fall, Graham led the pack of Grove runners, all the way to the state meet.
Columbus Grove boys coach Terry Schnipke said Graham has taken it to the next level. This summer, Graham was clocked in the low 16-minute range in the 5,000 meters.
"Heís pretty goal-oriented and heís set some lofty goals this season. We always knew he was going to be a pretty good runner. But, we werenít sure how strong he would get. Heís gotten a lot stronger. Everyone on the team looks up to Jake," said Schnipke.
Close behind Graham is classmate Alex Shafer. Last season, Shafer was always close to Graham, giving the Bulldogs a very solid 1-2 punch. The two of them went 1-2 at both the NWC meet and district meet.
"Itís a joy to have Alex as our No. 2 guy," said Schnipke. "I donít know any school who would not take Alex as their No. 2 guy."
Rounding out the pack of returning letterwinners are seniors Grant Schroeder, Nick Schmiesing and Troy Meyer. Sophomores Colton Grothaus and Jerry Kesselmeyer return after very solid freshman seasons.
Schnipke feels this team has some unfinished business to take care of.
"This group has worked very hard this summer. My veterans, who went to camp, put in three-a-day practices and they have been leading by example all summer. My top runners are not fazed by hard work. Theyíre a pleasure to coach and they make my job easier.
"They know that hard work pays off and that summer miles, brings autumn smiles. It should be a really exciting year. I think itís going to be big," he said.