TIFFIN — There’s nothing sweeter than redemption.
After Van Wert’s Caylee Phillips fell down at last year’s Division II regional cross country meet at Tiffin and failed to advance to the state meet, there wasn’t much discussion afterward.
Phillips and her coaches knew it wasn’t the end of the road.
The junior Phillips returned to Hedges-Boyer Park on Saturday focused on conquering the 5,000-meter course and qualifying for the state meet.
Phillips battled with the lead pack throughout Saturday’s Division II race. With about 800 meters to go, she was sitting in fourth place.
In the final 400 meters, Phillips worked her way into contention, and then down the stretch pulled out in front to notch the win in both a personal-best and school-record time of 18 minutes, 34.7 seconds. Lexington’s Halle Hamilton (second, 18:35) and Joanna Halfhill (third, 18:38.6) were right behind Phillips.
“We didn’t talk about regionals at all,” Van Wert coach Ryan Holliday said. “I think everybody, including herself, knew that she is better than that. It wasn’t something we had to talk about.”
Phillips was patient in Saturday’s race.
“I was behind them (for most of the race),” Phillips said. “Then at the 3-mile (mark) I got in front of them for a little bit. My coach said, ‘You have to go now.’ So, I went and stayed right behind them. They ended up going about 25 meters ahead of me. Then, I went into a full-out sprint and got them right at the end.”
Phillips reflected on last year’s regional experience.
“Last year, I fell down on the first hill and I got up very slowly and ended up getting almost last,” Phillips said. “This year, my coach asked me what would I do if I fell down the hill. I said, ‘Get up and run’.”
Phillips was coming off two impressive weeks in which she won both the Western Buckeye League title and district title. In both races, Phillips pulled away for the victories.
“She hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunities to run with competition this year,” Holliday said. “We knew coming in, there were probably five or six girls that would be in the front of the race. So, with her, the strategy was simple – settle in with that lead pack and just sit on them for 2 ½ miles. She is really confident in her last 800 (meters of the race). She really believes that she can beat anyone in that last 800. We told her if she got to that 800 mark, then just go; and she did. I’ve never seen anything like that, and I’ve coached for nine years. It was a masterpiece.”
Holliday said Phillips’ success this past spring in track gave her the confidence she needed for this fall season.
“Last year, she made it to state (in track) as part of the four-by-four (1,600-meter relay), which was a big step for her, personally – to get to the state level in something. So, I think she came into today without
having that monkey on her back,” Holliday said.
In the Division II girls’ race, the top four teams and the top 16 individuals advance to the state meet, which will be held at National Trail Raceway in Hebron on Saturday, Nov. 3.
In the boys’ Division II race, the top three teams, along with any finisher in the top 12 spots, advance to the state meet.
Van Wert finished fourth, Shawnee came in sixth and Ottawa-Glandorf was seventh. There were also no individual qualifiers from the area in the boys’ Division II race.
In the Division III boys’ race, the top seven teams, along with the top 28 placers in Saturday’s race at Tiffin, advance to the state meet.
Lincolnview had the best area performance in Division III, finishing second in the team standings with 143 points. New London won with 129 points. Along with Lincolnview, Northwest Conference-foe Columbus Grove advances with its fourth-place finish (172).
Longtime Lincolnview coach Matt Langdon said Saturday’s race could not have played out much better than it did. Senior Alek Bowersock led the way for the Lancers with a third-place finish (16:25.7).
“We really had everything go our way,” Langdon said. “Alek was third overall – that’s huge on your team score. Jacob Keysor (20th, 16:54.3) was doing solid all year, but today he was incredible. He qualified on his own. Karter Tow (24th, 16:55.1) qualified on his own. And then our pack was right there. Everything we could have done today, we pretty much did. They were so relaxed. These guys have been through it. I’m happy they get a chance to have one more week of practice; and we want to do something down at state. We beat some good teams today.”
Bowersock was hoping to finish toward the front of the pack on Saturday.
“Going in, I knew I had a good chance of placing pretty high,” Bowersock said. “Coach set us up pretty good to succeed. So, I just went out and did my best. My team followed me and we did what we wanted to do.”
Columbus Grove’s Johnny Schmiedebusch led all area Division III runners with a second-place finish in a personal-best time of 16:21.7. Ayersville’s Noah Fisher won in 15:54.7.
“I didn’t want him (Fisher) to get too far away from me, because I wouldn’t be able to get him,” Schmiedebusch said about chasing Fisher. “At the 2-mile mark is when I really started to notice it (Fisher pulling away). I was trying to pick it up a little bit, but he picked it up too. I really didn’t know where I was going to place. I was just going to play it by ear. I was going to hang out toward the front as long as I could.”
Last season, Schmiedebusch made it to the state meet, individually. Next Saturday, Schmiedebusch will be accompanied by his teammates, as the Bulldogs will compete as a team.
“The good thing is, we got out (to the state tournament),” Columbus Grove boys’ coach Terry Schnipke said. “We got fourth and advanced to state. That’s definitely going to be a fun time for these guys. I was a little disappointed in the way these guys ran today. They are a competitive group and they were hoping to win it today. But, anything can happen at regionals.
“It’s kind of mixed emotions. We’re happy to be moving on, but I know the guys are a little disappointed with themselves on how they ran. It’s a good thing for them to get another chance next week to step up and prove themselves.”
In the Division III girls’ race, the top eight teams and the top 32 individuals advance to the state meet.
Minster ran away with the D-III team title, scoring 35 points. Archbold finished a distant second with 102 points. Other area teams that advanced to the state meet were Coldwater (fourth, 214), Lincolnview (fifth, 225), Columbus Grove (sixth, 234) and Crestview (eighth, 266).
Minster’s Emma Watcke, the defending Division III state champion, pulled away in the last mile to win Saturday’s race in 18:27.8.
“I was feeling good at about a mile-and-a-half,” Watcke said. “So, I decided to go. Every race is different. I just see how the race plays out and then kind of decide what to do.”
Minster placed its five scorers in the top 16 spots on Saturday.
“At this point, our main focus is that we want to be racing in November,” longtime Minster girls’ coach Jessie Magoto said.
Wapakoneta’s Paige Schneider finished 18th (20:25.89) in the Division I girls race which required individual runners to finish in the top eight to move on to state.