It’s never too early to take a look ahead.
Throughout the season in cross country, one of the topics consistently brought up from coaches and runners in interviews was the growth of the sport in our area.
While numerous upperclassmen have had success this year at a high level, there have been other participants who are underclassmen and even middle schoolers who are well deserving of credit and attention.
Two of those runners on the boy’s side of things are South Webster eighth grader Brady Blizzard and Wheelersburg eighth grader David Brown.
Both have shared the spotlight throughout their middle school careers, and next year as freshman expect to compete right away.
Blizzard placed third in the Ohio Cross Country Middle School State Championships earlier this month, while Brown finished first at the OHSAA Middle School Invitational.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our younger students,” South Webster cross country head coach Tim Conley said. “We encourage them to go up and run against the best competition.”
Conley has had several runners in the past compete at the state level in middle school, most notably Kayla Cook who excelled at that stage for the Jeeps in the past.
However, he says none have performed as well as Blizzard did in his state race.
“Since I’ve been around, the fastest time I’ve ever personally seen out of a junior high boy was probably 2005,” Conley said. “That was at the Piketon meet, he was one of our kids and he ran an 11:15. For [Brady] to run an 11:02 at the state meet against the best competition … he would have won the [silver division] by almost 10 seconds.”
“I encouraged him to run against the gold division, because that’s the better competition. I wanted him to go against the best, because I think his high school career could be as good as we’ve ever had.”
Challenging Blizzard paid off for Conley, who is expecting big things from Brady in the coming years. With Brady being able to run with his brother Mason Blizzard, it seems that there’s a storm brewing out among the South Webster cross country team.
The Jeeps also had success at the middle school girls level, finishing first as a team in the SOC championship meet earlier in October.
Several runners for South Webster will be moving on to the high school ranks next season, as eighth graders Brooklyn Blanton (9th at SOC meet) and Hunter Sizemore (20th at SOC meet) become freshman in high school next year.
Seventh graders have enjoyed great performances as well, as several girls went on to place high in the SOC meet for the Jeeps. Ali Newman (5th), Macey Rhodes (17th), and Kennedy Murphy (25th) all showed their potential in the same meet.
“Our sport is growing, and I’m tickled to death to be a part of it,” Conley said.
Wheelersburg might have finished 4th as a boys team and 5th as a girls team at the SOC championship race, but they are also laying a base and building on what’s to come down the road.
Brown and Blizzard look like they could be competing with one another throughout high school, and each are capable of going above and beyond the conference championship meet.
Pirates head coach Adam Conn thinks that Brown has the ability to compete for regionals as early as next year.
“He’s really good,” Conn said. “He’s one of those kids that you can look at before they’re in high school, and I’ve pretty much already decided that he’s the type of kid that can be a leader and be a team captain.”
Conn says that Brown approached him earlier this season and said “next year I am aiming to make it regionals as a freshman. Regionals, and possibly even state.”
The Wheelersburg coach has no doubts that this is an attainable goal for Brown if he puts his mind to it.
“If he stays where he’s at, I think he’s got a good opportunity to do that,” Conn said.
Not only has Brown demonstrated success on the course, but off of it as well. Brown has embraced a leadership role from a young age, and continues to motivate his team and those around him for the Pirates.
“We had a lot of people [this year] who it was their first time getting involved in not only cross country but a sport at all,” Conn said. “Regardless of what the rest of the team’s progress was early on, it did not discourage David. It did not let him change how he worked, in fact it made him work harder.”
“It made him push his teammates harder in practice to get them better. It’s never about David, it’s always about everybody in the program.”
That selflessness has been received well, and Brown has already made efforts to recruit his friends and fellow athletes to run with him.
“It’s already started to take effect,” Conn said. “A lot of his friends who just started running this year in eighth grade towards the end of the season started talking to him about his mindset and how he thinks during practice and during a meet.
“What he does, maybe it’s how he exercises when he’s on his own or maybe it’s how he eats. They’re already wanting to pick up on what he’s doing to be great. Not just at practice and at meets, but on his own time.”
The young guns extend beyond Brown, as the Pirates also have a superstar in the making with seventh grader Kyra Warren.
Warren finished sixth at the SOC conference meet, and also placed sixth at the OHSAA Middle School Invitational race.
Conn says that Warren reminds him of where Brown was at this point last year, and says that both demonstrate amazing leadership qualities and abilities given their age.
“When you see what they do, and just how they respond and how they carry themselves, it reminds you of an older high schooler,” Conn said.
Several other schools have some names to take notice of, too.
Northwest’s Kailan Marshall finished fourth in the boys race at the SOC conference meet. Minford’s Skylar Allen and Luke Rader each finished in the top 17 in the same meet as seventh graders.
Notre Dame has two eighth grade boys ready to step up and compete in high school next year in Blake Pollard (15th at SOC meet) and Ethan Beckett (24th).
On the girls side, Green has several runners who stepped up this season on the middle school side of the action. Eighth grader Kacey Kimbler (10th) is the lone Bobcat who will move on to high school next year.
Green has a slew of seventh graders who performed well at the conference meet: Anna Knapp (19th), Hallie Peterman (24th), Kaylee Christian (26th) and Lori Brown (33rd) did their part in helping the Bobcats place third at the SOC race.
Minford and Valley each appear to have a bright future as well, with several top 25 finishers for both schools. Northwest also had two runners place in the top 12, so it looks like SOC schools are stockpiling young talent on both the boys and girls side.
Most importantly, though, the kids are learning important lessons taught to them by the sport.
“At the SOC meet, one of our junior high boys went down and turned his ankle,” Conley said. “Another kid stopped, because he turned his ankle right in the middle of the course, and helped him to the side of the course where he wouldn’t get stepped on.”
“He said “are you ok” and [my runner] said “yeah, I think I’m ok. I’m going to make it.” So, he leaned him up against the wall so he wouldn’t get stepped on, and he takes off again. That kid stopped to help him, it probably cost him a lot of time and maybe a place or two, but he was still more concerned about our kid’s health. That speaks volumes about our sport.”
With young leaders like Brown and Blizzard out there setting the example, and others taking their lead and stepping up in their own regard, the future for cross country in Scioto County seems better than ever.
High School Regional Recap
Regional competition concluded in Pickerington last Saturday, where some advanced and several seasons were ended.
Minford’s Matthew Harris missed out on qualifying for state by just one place. The junior had a remarkable season and will look to make it to state next year in his final season as a Falcon.
Portsmouth’s Aiden Kammler also narrowly missed out on making the cut, but as a junior he will still have another year to attempt to qualify.
Lynsey Shipley and Anne Marie Raies, also Trojans, wound up just short as well. Shipley came in 42nd, while Raies placed 88th.
Eastern’s Evan Leist kept his season alive with a seventh place finished to make it on to state next Saturday in Hebron. Rock Hill also had two freshman runners qualify, as Bella Stevens (11th) and Camryn Miller (19th) will continue their strong years as well.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer