McDERMOTT — Northwest High School cross country coach Adam Schroeder really has a chance for a November to truly remember.
On Monday, Schroeder and his wife welcomed a new baby boy into the world.
This Saturday, another world awaits, as Schroeder coaches his Mohawks in the Division II boys state championship race — with one senior Mohawk staring down an individual state crown.
That’s because, for the second time in as many years and for the second time in school history, the Northwest boys will compete at the state meet as an entire team —aiming to improve upon last year’s 14th-place finish out of 20 total squads.
But perhaps more eyes, as they were last year and all throughout this season, will be on Mohawk senior Landen Smith —who was an all-Ohioan last year and already the Region 7 champion for this.
Indeed, Smith — in his final Northwest race — is expected to compete for the individual state title, part of the annual Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross country meet, to be held inside fantastic Fortress Obetz.
This is the first fall for the state meet to be held there, as it took place for almost a decade at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
That included last year, when Smith finished an impressive 11th-place out of 183 Division II runners — and crossed the coveted finish line in a personal-best and very fast 16 minutes and four seconds.
The top 20 placers in the state race earn all-Ohio honors.
Already in the regional race last weekend, Smith —following a Southeast District runner-up finish —captured the individual championship with an equally astonishing time of 16:12.
A four-time regional qualifier, that 16:12 was the fastest of any of his four races at Pickerington North.
Schroeder, and even Smith himself, have targeted the Nov. 7 date — and the state meet at Fortress Obetz — since the start of summer.
The senior stated for a preseason feature report in The Portsmouth Daily Times that his goal was nothing short of a state championship.
Of course, he will need to run the race of his young life on Saturday, but he clearly is trending towards that direction.
Schroeder said Smith bounced back from a disappointing district run by his standards, and even overcame “some struggles” during the week of the regional race.
Now, Smith’s sights are set on a state title.
“I kept reminding Landen that the goal is to peak for state. We talked about race strategy and what he needed to do to win regionals. It is exciting to talk about winning and even more exciting to see your athlete pull it off. That was a huge win for him, the team, his family and the Northwest community. I couldn’t be more proud as a coach,” said Schroeder. “We have one more week to prepare and get ready for the biggest race of his life. If he runs and executes the perfect race, I know he has a chance to be state champion. We have talked about this day for years and after watching his kick at regionals, I sure am glad that he runs for me at Northwest. I can’t wait to see what he and this team does next week.”
On the team front, Smith led the way —with Northwest finishing in fifth-place and thus qualifying for a second straight state meet.
Fellow Mohawk senior Josh Shope secured seventh-place with a time of 16:46, while junior teammate Kailan Marshall mustered a 13th-place performance in 16:53.
The other Northwest scorers at the regional were senior Gabe Morrell (18:18) and junior Mason Breech (18:56), while freshman Eragorn Elkins (20:21) and sophomore Michael Wamsley (20:57) each ran in under 21 minutes.
“The regional race was unbelievable for the kids. It seemed like we faced adversity this whole year, and it was great to see them run their best race of the season so far,” said Schroeder. “Losing Ricky Gambill to start the season put a damper on our goal of a top-five team at state. You can’t replace a kid like Ricky. But before the race I told the kids that we do not need an unbelievable performance, all we have to do is be ourselves. Gabe (Morrell) and Mason (Breech) have been huge for closing out the scoring. They run hard wire-to-wire,” said Schroeder. “We had kids step up and fight through this whole year to win SOC (Southern Ohio Conference), be district runners-up, and make it to state for the second year in a row. I hope the kids realize how big of a deal that is.”
While a realistic top-five team finish may be out of the running, perhaps a top-10 spot is in instead.
Schroeder said he would not be surprised to see Smith, Shope AND Marshall earn all-Ohio honors on Saturday.
“The biggest advantage we have is our top three runners. They all have a chance at being in the front of every race and they set the tone for the team. I know that when that gun goes off, they are going to go out there and take care of business and do whatever needs to be done to be successful,” said the coach. “Landen and Josh have been doing this for a long time and it is special to see that they have a senior season to prove what they are capable of. They have pushed each other for years and there is nothing better than them racing together one last time. And I think that Kailan gets lost when we talk about all-time great runners at Northwest, but he has a real shot at being all-Ohio as well. They each won their battles at the regional, and set themselves up for a chance to have a huge race at state. I won’t put a limit on what they can do this week.”
In addition to the seven Mohawks, don’t bet against Scioto County’s other two state meet representatives —Portsmouth freshman Charlie Putnam and Minford senior Dutch Byrd.
For Putnam, in his first regional race, he was the fastest Division II freshman by nearly 50 seconds —and actually placed in ninth in 16 minutes and 49 seconds.
Entering the state race, Putnam has the fastest freshman time —and is indeed eyeing his own all-Ohio effort.
Byrd, Minford’s 5K boys record holder in 16:12 which he established three weeks ago at the Southern Ohio Conference meet, punched his state ticket by taking 22nd at the regional.
His time there was 17:08, as individuals among the top-28 — and not a qualifying team — move on to the state.
The nine Scioto County men will compete in the Division II boys race —with the starting gun going off at high noon.
Additional information about the state meet can be found at www.ohsaa.org.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved