But when the head coach of a team has to do everything he can to keep the kids away — that’s when you know a special season could be in store.
“These guys start summer conditioning way before I do,” New London boys cross country coach Keith Landis said of his state-ranked Wildcats. “They do just about everything together.”
Ranked No. 9 in the Division III state coaches poll, the Wildcats were just 10 points away from a regional championship last weekend at Tiffin. And suddenly, a team with just one senior could potentially produce a top 5 or 10 finish at Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. state championship race at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
New London’s summer conditioning program starts the first Monday following the Fourth of July.
“Those guys take a couple of weeks off after track that I mandate, but they go out on their own after that,” Landis said. “We can’t do anything until July, but they’ve already been running three or four days a week before we schedule anything as a program.”
A trio of sophomores has paced the Wildcats much of the season.
Carson Coey and Curt Joppeck, who were both top 10 in 16:46.18 and 16:47.20 at the regional last week, have been 1-2 essentially all season.
A third sophomore, Dominic Albaugh, was up there much of the season, though a bout with the flu set him back in recent weeks.
“When those three get a little older, I think you’ll find them at the front of the race a lot of times,” Landis said. “Until Dom got the flu about three weeks ago, the average times between them was only about 10 seconds. They are three very talented runners.”
Court Britt, the lone senior in the top seven, was 35th last week (17:21.96) at the regional.
“That was about a 25-second personal best for him, and he looked real smooth doing it,” Landis said. “Just a huge jump for him, and he’s moving in the right direction.”
Landis noted freshman Cole Kropka has been the most consistent runner on the team, and sophomore Mitch Joppeck has been a model of consistency as well.
Twin siblings and juniors Aaron and Austin Reed round out the deep lineup.
“Cole gives us the same thing every Saturday, which is impressive at that age,” Landis said. “Mitch is running well at the right time.
“The depth on this team is special,” he added. “Even our No. 9 guy has spent some time in the top seven. When you’re getting an 18:30 from the ninth position — it’s a good problem to have.”
The Wildcats also saw depth in the form of the Firelands Conference this season. Despite a top 10 ranking in the state, New London didn’t win the FC on Oct. 14. That went to host Mapleton, which along with St. Paul, also has a pair of runners competing this weekend.
“At the Tiffin Carnival this year, the FC had four teams in the top 15 in the Div. III race,” Landis said. “That’s a special boys conference right there. All three of us (New London, Mapleton, St. Paul) still have guys in the race, but no one is looking at Crestview — and they were 15th at Carnival.
“That’s not a bad program, either,” he added. “Certainly top 40 in the state among four teams. That FC meet was a fun show to watch.”
The Wildcats were 14th as a team at last year’s state championships. What is the expectation on Saturday?
“If you use all the computer programs and times like Milesplit, we’re in the middle of pack around 10th,” Landis said. “Which would be great. If they all run a great race, maybe top 5, but there are some real good teams out there.
“But if we had a great day from all seven, probably top 5 would be a high-end finish,” he added. “Realistically, will be right in middle of the pack. You just hope you get through it healthy and gain some valuable experience.”