Wauseon cross country has many solid runners returning as they look to have another memorable season.
A year ago, both their boys and girls teams qualified for state. Competing in Division II, the boys finished seventh and the girls 15th.
The Wauseon girls return junior Grace Rhoades who was 16th at state, good enough for All-Ohio honors.
“Our primary goal this year is to have some postseason success,” said head coach Joe Allen. “We need to stay healthy and develop our pack of 4-7 runners to push themselves to do that. The girls have been working very hard with this as their end goal.”
Other returnees include seniors Maggie Duden and Serena Mathews, as well as juniors Emilie Wasnich and Natalie Kuntz. Newcomers will be freshmen Alex Schultz, Lolly Santillantes, and Selah Sanchez.
“This year’s strength is our experience,” Allen said. “This group has been successful and understands the things that must be done to keep that success going. The seniors have been regional qualifiers twice, and state qualifiers once.”
The girls team has to replace Josie Callan, Natasha Miller, and Bailey McGuire. This leaves their roster a bit smaller this year.
“Numbers are an incredible weakness for us,” noted Allen. “We have only 8 runners and even though they are a talented 8, we still need numbers to continue to build a successful program. We have to also work on developing a more of a pack mentality within our 4 through 7 runners. I believe that our pack has to be willing to push their comfort zone a little bit this year too.”
Allen expects it to be a tall task to knock off Liberty Center from atop the Northwest Ohio Athletic League standings. They are the two-time defending league champions.
“I would say that Liberty Center is by far the favorite,” he said. “Liberty Center has some very great runners who performed well last year. They will be very difficult to beat. Liberty Center is always tough. Archbold and Patrick Henry should also be solid in the league. Evergreen and Bryan are doing a nice job of developing their talent.”
The Wauseon boys will try to repeat as league champions, but some work will need to be done during the season in order to make that happen.
“We have to develop a 3, 4 and 5 runner and we have to rely on some sophomores to perform this year. If they do, we will be a very good cross country team. The boys have worked hard and have some big goals to push towards,” said Allen on his outlook of the boys.
Returnees for the boys are seniors Carter Nofziger and Hunter Wasnich; juniors Jack Callan, Aidan Pena, and Joseph Perez; and sophomores Garrett Leininger and Xander Ankney.
Newcomers to the squad will be freshmen Miles Kuntz, Matthew Siler and Logan Williams.
“We are a very young team that has some big meet experience,” explained Allen. “We have only 2 seniors out of our 12 boys this year. The expectation is that Jack Callan and Hunter Wasnich will be our leaders this year. Both were individual state qualifiers last year. We will be relying on their experiences. Overall, the whole boys team has trained very well over the summer and that should help the team. I believe that if Carter Nofziger, Aidan Pena, and Zaden Torres progress even more than they did last season, that this group will be very successful.”
However, the Indians do lose Braden Vernot, an All-Ohio runner in 2020 after taking ninth at state. Also gone is Layton Willson.
“We are very young,” said Allen, referring to his team’s weaknesses this season. “Many sophomores have to learn how to push themselves to the next level this season. If they can do that we could be very good. I also believe we need further development out of our 4, 5, 6, and 7 runners this year. That group has to understand that they cannot sit back and let others try to win meets for us. They have to be willing to help more in that stance.”
The Wauseon coach sees many teams as a threat to dethrone them in the league.
“I believe that Archbold and Liberty Center will have strong teams again this year,” he said. “I know that Bryan’s number one runner is outstanding and that will help the rest of the team develop into great cross country runners. Patrick Henry and Delta are going to be greatly improved and could push for a much higher league placement this year. Evergreen and Swanton have some individuals who will factor into the league meet. We hope that we can also factor into the meet. Overall, it should be a great race to watch.”
Wauseon will be at the Columbus Grove Invitational on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.