And as the calendar turns to the postseason, things are about to get very real for the New London boys cross country team.
Led by a 1-2 finish from Curtis Joppeck and Tyler Twining, the Division III No. 2-ranked Wildcats again dominated to the boys team title on Saturday at the Firelands Conference championships at Mary Fate Park in Plymouth.
The Wildcats scored just 23 points and had seven of the top 12 runners — giving them all first or second team All-FC honors. That point total was well ahead of Div. III No. 12 Crestview (58) and St. Paul (89). Mapleton (104), Plymouth (134), Western Reserve (146) and Monroeville (202) rounded out the field.
Joppeck was clocked at 17:06.02 to pace New London, with Twining coming in at 17:15.56 — just ahead of the third-place finish of Plymouth’s Levi Robinson (17:17.83).
New London’s Dominic Albaugh was fifth (17:35.95), while teammates Caleb Good (17:49.52) and Mitchell Joppeck (17:52.50) were seventh and eighth, respectively. Braeden Geist (18:03.82) and Cole Kropka (18:06.26) then placed 11th and 12th for the ‘Cats.
Head coach Keith Landis held out Carson Coey from the race, yet Kropka as the seventh runner still found his way into the top 12.
“The course was relatively firm today despite the weather, but we ran a real nice race,” Landis said. “Curt and Tyler patiently waited through the first mile and then made a move. Our eighth kid, who would be a varsity runner on every other team, was 12th in our conference today.
“So with seven of the top 12, I can’t ask for anything more than that,” he added. “We’ve been fortunate this year. We’ve had kids sit out here and there, but we’ve had the depth to have a real nice season — and that showed today. The depth is excellent right now.”
For St. Paul, Zack Stine (18:00.34) was ninth and Ian Deeter (18:13.46) was 14th. Also for the Flyers, the trio of Gavin Ross (18:57.88), Nick Centa (19:01.48) and Ryan Gross (19:02.31) placed 21st through 23rd, while Isaac Thimke (19:21.95) and Alex Stine (19:30.90) were 26th and 27th, respectively.
After Robinson, Plymouth’s Landon Blankenship (19:21.72) was 25th, followed by Nick Bowser (34th, 20:25.77), Christian Page (35th, 20:27.88) and Andrew Miller (37th, 21:26.88).
Logan Rogers was the top finisher for Western Reserve. He placed 17th in 18:48.93. He was followed by teammates Sam Beaudin (24th, 19:17.31), Sean Murdock (31st, 20:01.54) and Aidan Perez (32nd, 20:03.92).
Monroeville’s Ellis Herner (21:37.70), Trask Ott (21:50.71) and Caleb Lykins (22:16.35) placed 38th-through-40th, respectively.
Saturday’s title was the 25th in program history for the New London boys, including the 11th in the last 14 years.
“I know Curt and Dom are usually at the front, but I can’t tell you the order we ever finish each week — and that’s what makes this team special,” Landis said. “They push each other every week. It’s a lot of fun to watch that pack go by … that mental edge is pretty hard to replicate.”
The district meet will be held next Saturday at Amman Park in Galion next week, where the Wildcats will certainly be the heavy favorites once again. The regional will be held at Hedges-Boyer Parkin Tiffin on Oct. 26.
“These kids have worked so hard all year, and from the top to the bottom we’ve got a great group of kids that put it on the line every week,” Landis said. “They come out every day at practice and get after it. That’s a special thing when it happens.
“Hopefully we ride that out here for a few more weeks,” he added. “I told the guys it’s for real now, but we’re looking forward to a nice race next week. “But Crestview is a state-ranked team and St. Paul has a chance to turn some heads these next few weeks, too. It’s a testament to the depth of the conference.”