OTTAWA — Repeating as a cross country district champion isn’t an easy thing to do.
There’s always a target on the frontrunner’s back.
Van Wert senior Caylee Phillips does not mind being in that situation.
Phillips came into Saturday’s Division II district meet at Ottawa with the mindset of setting the pace and defending her district title from a year ago.
Phillips got out to an early lead and was never challenged, en route to a winning time of 18 minutes, 50.2 seconds on the 5,000-meter course at Memorial Park. Wauseon’s Grace Rhoades was her closest competitor, finishing in 19:37.7.
Phillips was coming off a strong showing at last weekend’s Western Buckeye League Championships at Defiance, where she clocked a winning time of 18:42.78 – a good 34 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
“It was basically a repeat of last week,” Phillips said. “The times that were behind me (coming into Saturday) were basically the same as last week. … We were looking at it, when we planned for this race. I knew, coming in, that I could win it. I just had to fight for it. (I had to) go out hard in the beginning, settle in and finish strong like I always do.”
Next up for Phillips, is defending her regional title.
Last year, Phillips came on strong in the final stretch at Tiffin’s Hedges-Boyer Park to win the regional crown in a school-record time of 18:34.7.
“I’m going to try to do the same thing I did last year,” Phillips said. “I know there’s some good competition coming in.”
In the final team standings Saturday, Shawnee won the district title, defeating second-place Wauseon 55-77. Defiance (85) and Van Wert (90) nabbed the final two qualifying spots for regionals. The top four teams advance to next Saturday’s Division II regional meet at Tiffin.
Shawnee was led by Celia Spieles, who finished fourth (19:58.2). Teammate Alaina Williams was close behind in fifth (20:08.1). Rounding out the top five runners for Shawnee were Molly Stump (12th, 20:48.2), Lily Cleaves (15th, 20:50.6) and Lexie Marshall (19th, 21:04.5).
Also, the top 16 placers in Saturday’s race (not on a qualifying team) advance to the Tiffin regional. Area runners who qualified individually were Kenton’s Kierra Krohmer (seventh, 20:15.6), St. Marys’ Maria Jutte (11th, 20:42) and teammate Ellen Schloemer (14th, 20:50.5).
On the boys side, Defiance senior standout Mhalicki Bronson gapped the field early on, and continued to pull away, en route to a winning time of 15:43.4.
Teammate Brennen Roehrig was Bronson’s closest competitor (16:20.4). Shawnee’s Isaiah Johns was a very close third (16:22.5).
Defiance’s next three runners were Colin Moats (seventh, 16:39.4), Cooper Morton (eighth, 16:43.3) and Eli Fortman (17th, 17:01.7).
Defiance ran away with the team title as well, as it defeated second-place Ottawa-Glandorf 35-96. Wauseon (107) and Shawnee (117) finished third and fourth respectively, to advance to the Tiffin regional.
Bronson, who won districts last season in Division I, came out Saturday with a simple strategy.
“It was basically – get out and run smooth, keep my legs fresh and get away from the crowd, so they don’t sit on me,” he said.
Now, Bronson will turn his focus on winning a regional title next weekend.
“That’s always the goal,” Bronson said with a smile.
The Ottawa-Glandorf boys team will be returning to the Tiffin regional next weekend.
The top five runners for O-G on Saturday were Kamron Maag (11th, 16:49.6), Parker Schomaeker (18th, 17:04.7), Hunter Stechschulte (19th, 17:10), Max Buddelmeyer (20th, 17:15.9) and Ty Buckland (28th, 17:40.1).
This will be the third consecutive year O-G has competed at regionals.
“We started pack running at the Van Wert race, and it worked,” Maag said. So, we’ve done it ever since.”
Added Schomaeker, “This year, we have a chance to go farther at regionals. Last year, we knew that (being a regional qualifier) was just about it. This year, we worked our tails off all summer and raced really well on Saturdays.”
O-G coach Holly Flueckiger cautioned her team about not getting caught up in the hype of competing in a postseason race.
“We wanted to make sure they just focused on themselves. Sometimes, it’s stressful during districts and the adrenalin is pumping. So, they did what they were supposed to do. It looked scary at the beginning, because it looked like they were slow, but it worked,” she said.
Area runners advancing to regionals, individually, were Van Wert’s Hunter Sherer (fifth, 16:32.9) and St. Marys’ Noah Tobin (16th, 16:57.9).
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.