Over the past several seasons, the sport of cross country and track, and the overall competitiveness inside said discipline, has arguably gone through a major uptick over the current decade.
And during the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Meets last Tuesday evening in Gallipolis, the Portsmouth Trojans showed off the talent that has many of the Portsmouth faithful expecting not only big things in sectional or district competition, but even farther on down the road.
Portsmouth junior hand Aiden Kammler, with his stellar time of 16:31.64, not only finished among the top realm of a competitive conference, but carried the flag for the OVC as the strong cross country hand stormed onto victory.
However, Kammler was far from the only individual to succeed for the Trojans, as Daniel Clark’s time of 17:00.23 — good for a rock-solid fifth-place finish — and Lynsey Shipley’s 21:09.39 time on the girls side, which also resulted in a fifth-place showing — allowed the trio to collect All-OVC honors and establish fantastic momentum heading into district competition.
For Brad Liston, earning even a top-20 in the traditionally strong OVC is impressive enough, especially when considering how strong Fairland, Gallia Academy, and Rock Hill have been over the years.
“They’re very strong teams,” Liston said. “Teams like Fairland, Gallia Academy, and Rock Hill consistently put runners at the regional or state level. To see Aiden’s hard work and dedication pay off in Ohio Valley Conference championship competition is gratifying. It kind of paves the way for what could very well be an outstanding postseason. As for Daniel and Lynsey, they are seeing the same things pay off. They both have put in a lot of miles and a lot of hard work over the summer.”
For Kammler and Clark, their strong showings against the OVC’s best and brightest certainly didn’t come without accident.
According to Liston — a former All-Mid-South Conference and All-Academic honoree at Shawnee State University, the duo spent many of their days running with fellow former SSU hands Corey Culbertson and Eli Gerlach in order to properly train for the competition that both were about to run into.
“Over this past summer, Aiden and Daniel met almost every single day at Shawnee State to meet and run with Corey and Eli,” Liston said. “And they ran. They put in the miles every single day.”
“Summer training really helped,” Kammler said. “Running over the summer is a huge thing. I just ran with the college guys. It’s awesome.”
Kammler, who won the race by nearly 18 full seconds over Kyle Greenlee, was one of only four individuals to cross the tape in under 17 minutes. However, the junior didn’t take the competition for granted — both before, or after, the race.
“(The OVC Meet) was a good race,” Kammler said. “It was pretty close through two miles, then I started to pull away a little bit. It was a good race. I’m proud for the Gallia Academy guys, Daniel, and Lynsey. They all did good.”
As for Shipley, her accomplishments and accolades were just as impressive, especially considering the circumstances.
Despite not ever officially running more than a 400 meter dash before her cross country debut, Shipley — a senior who is the OHSAA’s defending state champion in the 400 meter dash with her 56.28 time — was one of only nine girls to run an official time of under 22 minutes at the OVC Meet en route to proving that the senior is, once again, a quick study.
“Lynsey’s first cross country race that she ran, which was at Waverly, was her first time ever running an official distance above a 400 meter dash,” Liston said. “For her going into districts with the chance of possibly making it into regionals as a first-time cross country runner is nothing short of spectacular.”
Making the task more difficult for Kammler, Clark, and Shipley, among many others, is the constant pace that cross country runners have to maintain. Instead of running plays or times that last mere seconds — which take a special set of skill in its own right — cross country runners have to endure running for 20 to 30 minutes, without breaks, in weather conditions that can prove to be quite difficult depending on the overall forecast.
“You have to push yourself to exhaustion over three miles,” Liston said. “Daniel and Aiden have become accustomed to that, because they’ve pushed themselves harder and harder to the brink of exhaustion. However, Lynsey, where she hadn’t run anything above a 400 (meter dash), so she’s always said, ‘My legs are sore. They’re hurting. My legs are cramping up.’ I asked her how she was feeling after the OVC Meet, and she said something along the lines of, ‘I just feel exhausted. I’m tired all over. I’m not necessarily sore, but I’m tired.’ It wears on you, both physically and mentally, as far as pushing yourself to that limit is concerned.”
With the OVC Meet in the bag, the focus turns to the postseason, where Clark, Kammler, and Shipley will look to compete for a spot in the Division III district and regional meets that will occur in the coming weeks.
“As of now, our goal is for all three runners to qualify for regionals,” Liston said. “Then from there, it’s a whole different ballgame. It depends on the weather as well as the overall mental aspect. Those three are mentally tough. If they can go into regionals thinking, ‘Okay. We got this. We’ve got the training behind us. We’re in shape. We know that we can do it,’ then there’s a chance that all three runners will make it out and go to state. However, it all depends on the attitude and whether or not they’ve bought into the training at that level.”
Kammler, however, won’t be satisfied with just a regional appearance.
“I’m hoping to go to state,” Kammler said. “I have the time right now. You need a 16.50 to go on in Division II, and I’m running a 16.30. We’ll see what happens.”