Cross country: Ottawa-Glandorf’s Fortman, Bluffton’s Armstrong race to victory

OTTAWA — A cross country frontrunner with a strong kick usually spells trouble for the opposition.

This was in full display at Saturday’s Kalida Wildcat Invitational at the Kalida Fish and Game Club.

In the girls race, Ottawa-Glandorf senior Alexa Fortman stayed with Bryan’s Kate Thormeier for most of the 5,000-meter race. Then, with about 800 meters to go, Fortman shifted to a higher gear and displayed the speed that won her the 400- and 800-meter Division II state titles in track this past spring, as she pulled away for the victory in a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 46.8 seconds Saturday.

Thormeier finished second in 18:53.2. Fortman’s teammate, Madelyn Hovest, was a close third (19:07.5).

Ottawa-Glandorf won the girls team title, outscoring Liberty Center 68-80. Patrick Henry (82), Liberty-Benton (142) and Lincolnview (171) rounded out the top five squads in the field of 18 full teams.

Rounding out the top five runners Saturday for O-G were Olivia Fenbert (15th, 20:20.5), Corinne Closson (25th, 20:34.2) and Rose Turnwald (30th, 20:54.3).

There were 189 finishers in the girls race.

O-G head coach Holly Flueckiger said that Fortman was focused on what she needed to do in Saturday’s race.

“I asked her, ‘How did that feel, leading from behind?’ … That was a power move,” Flueckiger said. “I told her, ‘You don’t have to be up there (in the lead), but be right there with them.’ I think she’s figuring it out. So, hopefully she will continue to do that.

“She has that track (speed) in her — that push at the end. I told her that it will be there for her if she runs a smart race.”

Fortman said her strategy Saturday was to go out smart, and then pick the right moment to begin her kick.

“I was really trying to be patient in this race, trying to stay with her (Thormeier), and trying to kick that last 800 (meters) and give it all that I had,” Fortman said. “It really helps to run both the 800 and 400 in track. … I think that’s a big benefit in cross country – and knowing when to kick, too.”

Flueckiger is feeling optimistic at how her girls team is progressing, as the Western Buckeye League Championships are just two weeks away. The O-G girls have never won a WBL title in cross country. This year’s league meet will take place at Memorial Park in Ottawa on Oct. 15.

“They’re working together, and pushing each other,” Flueckiger said. “We’re starting to see that. They’re not going to let their teammates down.”

Hovest, who also plays soccer during the fall, said she was pleased at not only her performance Saturday, but the entire team’s performance.

“It was a big PR,” Hovest said about her time Saturday. “It felt really good to get out here and have a really good run.

“We have a lot of tough competition out here – a lot of people with really good times. But I think our team was really focused on having a successful run today. We worked really hard in practice this week.”

On the boys side, Bluffton senior Landon Armstrong let Bryan’s Xander Fackler pull him through most of Saturday’s race. Then, just like Fortman, Armstrong showcased his speed, as he raced to the finish line for the win in a time of 15:56. Fackler finished second in 16:02.8. Armstrong’s teammate, Erik Nygaard, was a close third (16:03.4). O-G’s Ty Rosengarten placed fourth (16:24.5). There were 142 finishers in the boys race.

“I was just following him (Fackler) the whole race,” Armstrong said. “I was trying to save, then kick. I usually don’t like to lead the race. It was a little windy on the backstretch, too. So, I just kind of sat by him. Then with about 800 (meters) left, I heard someone yell, ‘You have 800 left.’ … I’m an 800 runner. So, I kicked it in. I slowly gapped him. Then, I started to give everything I had. It was a pretty good race.”

At this past spring’s Division III state track meet, Armstrong placed fourth in the 800 with a time of 1:55.22.

In Saturday’s final team standings for the boys, Columbus Grove edged out Northwest Conference foe Lincolnview for the title, 95-98. Ottawa-Glandorf (101), Bluffton (120) and Otsego (126) rounded out the top five teams. There were 18 full squads figured into the team scoring.

Leading the way for Columbus Grove on Saturday was Trent Koch with a ninth-place finish (16:46.2). Luke Ellerbrock was close behind in 12th (16:49.9). The rest of Columbus Grove’s scorers included Bryce Bonifas (15th, 17:05.6), Evan Pitts (23rd, 17:26.8) and Logan Mershman (36th, 18:03.3).

“I knew with a lot of teams coming in, it would be difficult, no matter what,” longtime Columbus Grove boys head coach Terry Schnipke said. “I knew we had to run well to win.

“It’s still a little too big of a gap for me between four and five (runners on the team), and then five and six. … We’ll work on that a little bit.”

Last season, Columbus Grove placed fourth at the Division III state meet. With the postseason tournament just a few weeks away, Schnipke is trying to get his team to peak at the right time.

“It’s always a delicate balance for a coach, between pushing them hard enough to be in shape, and not getting them injured,” Schnipke said. “So, I usually air on the side of caution, and try to keep them healthy.”

Mark Altstaetter wrote this story for The Lima News. Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.