COLUMBUS GROVE — There’s no better way for a cross country team to build confidence than to perform at a high level on its home course.
The Columbus Grove boys cross country team did just that at Saturday’s Columbus Grove Invitational.
Columbus Grove moved up to the larger school division (Gray Division) on Saturday and just missed notching the team title. Toledo St. Francis nipped Columbus Grove 67-75 for the team crown.
Van Wert finished a distant third (135), while Minster (161) and Findlay (181) rounded out the top five squads in the 18-team field.
Leading the pack of runners for Columbus Grove on the 5,000-meter course Saturday was junior Trent Koch, who finished seventh overall with a time of 16 minutes, 24.62 seconds. The rest of Columbus Grove’s pack included Caleb Stechschulte (16:37.09), Roy Langhals (16:40.54), Caleb Morman (16:48.72), Luke Ellerbrock (16:54.84), Carson Closson (17:03.37) and Bryce Bonifas (17:15.58).
“It feels pretty good,” Koch said about his performance Saturday. “I knew I was going to be up in the top two or three spots. I PR’d by about 20 seconds.”
Carson Closson, who finished sixth on Columbus Grove’s team Saturday, is normally in the top two or three spots on the team. However, Closson has been hampered by blisters.
Stechschulte, one of four seniors for Columbus Grove in the top seven spots, said the goal was to come out Saturday and see how they could compete with the larger schools.
“It’s different competition,” Stechschulte said. “(We wanted) to see what we could do against it. That’s what (Columbus Grove) Coach (Terry Schnipke) wanted.
“I’m really happy with my time. That’s my PR (personal record) for the year. As a team, most of them PR’d too. It was a good day.”
This year, Columbus Grove returns all but one from last year’s top seven runners. With the depth and experience, the Bulldogs have high expectations this season.
Last year, Columbus Grove finished sixth at the state meet in Division III. Stechschulte was Columbus Grove’s top finisher at the state meet, placing 37th overall in a time of 16:41.3. Koch was not far behind Stechschulte at last year’s state meet, finishing four spots behind him (16:44.6).
With the depth of this year’s team, Koch said the order of the top seven runners for the Bulldogs might look a little different from week to week.
“It’s going to change a lot this year – with our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh guys,” Koch said.
Stechschulte said the Columbus Grove Invitational always brings out the best in the team.
“That helps a lot, because we want to defend our home course. We’ve all been running on it for a long time. It’s my fourth year now. It helps to be familiar with it – knowing where the turns are and when to go.”
Bryan’s Joshua Taylor won the Gray Division boys race in a time of 15:31.52.
Van Wert’s top runner Saturday was Hunter Sherer (11th, 16:31.84).
In the girls Gray Division, Minster ran away with the team crown. The Wildcats scored 52 points, compared to Liberty-Benton’s 121 points. Anna (141), Findlay (151) and Ottawa-Glandorf (162) rounded out the top five squads. There were 14 full teams in the Gray Division.
Maggie Hemmelgarn led Minster with a second-place finish (19:05). Ottawa-Glandorf’s Alexa Fortman finished third (19:11.1).
In the boys Red Division, Botkins notched the team title, as it outscored Lincolnview 48-69. Bluffton finished third (155), while Van Buren (166) and Carey (169) rounded out the top five teams. There were 14 teams in the boys Red Division.
In the girls Red Division, Botkins scored just 29 points, en route to the team crown. Van Buren was second (59), Edgerton third (75). Lincolnview fourth (103) and Bluffton was fifth (126).
Botkins sophomore Brittany Arnold won the race in 18:59.07.
The Columbus Grove girls team placed sixth in the Red Division.
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.