By Bruce Monnin
COLUMBUS -- Last year David Wilker was disappointed he did not have his team with him at the state cross country meet. This year, he was again disappointed as the Cavaliers finished fifth in a tough regional, just behind the second-, third- and fourth-place teams.
But the team's misfortune meant he could run the race for himself.
"Coming in I saw I had the sixth best time and I thought, 'I can run with these boys,'" said Wilker. "I think I ran the race pretty smart. Coach Pohlman told me to get through two miles and then to race after that."
David started out fast and was in fourth place after the first half mile. From there on out he seemed to hang on to the back of the lead group and was in sixth place at the two-mile mark. He stayed with the lead pack until just before the leaders re-entered the track area for the final time.
"The first two started to break, and I tried to go but I didn't have that much of a kick," explained Wilker. "So I stayed back just a little bit longer until I hit the track, because I knew once you come to the track you get an adrenalin boost once you hear the crowd." Wilker used that adrenaline to pass two runners late, though one runner then passed him right before the finish to leave David in fourth place overall.
"To get fourth, that's something," added a happy Wilker. "And I broke 16:00 (the official time was 16:00 but those at the finish line know the clock still showed 15:59 when David crossed the line) which is a very big goal I wanted to do all year. What better place to do it than here at the state meet?"
Wilker's Cavalier teammate, Jamie Kuess, also placed high in the standings, finishing 47th with a time of 17:17.
While the Minster girls were accepting its state championship trophy, the Minster boys were quietly compiling possibly the best ever result at the state meet for a Minster boys team.
With Casey Heckman leading the way as the only senior on the squad, the Wildcats placed 12th in the team standings.
"I think the best finish Minster has ever had was 11th or 12th," stated Minster coach Larry Topp. "This is the best team I've had in the 20 years I've been in Minster."
Heckman finished 44th in the individual standings with a time of 17:14 to lead a group of young Wildcat runners. Sophomore Kregg Olding was close behind with a time of 17:31. Following him were junior Troy Niekamp, freshman Joby Stechschulte, sophomore David McGowan, freshman Tyler Richard and sophomore David Bornhorst.
"I had a bunch of rookies who had never been to state before. I used my leadership to try to keep their nerves calm," stated Heckman. "The course seemed a little slow today, but I caught most of the people who I thought I'd be with, so overall, I thought I did alright. Topp told us to empty our tanks at the end, and that's what I did."
Coach Topp was more than satisfied with his team's effort.
"I'm very happy with how they all performed. They came into this big venue and I thought they might be nervous, but they ran some of their best times of the year. Casey said his lungs haven't hurt that bad in a long time, but he hadn't run with that kind of competition in a long time either. Casey and Kregg ran very competitive races with who was here."
Conversely, Versailles coach Mark Pleiman bought a team filled with five seniors to Columbus.
Senior Clint Hufford was the leader of the team this week, posting a time of 17:35, while sophomore Ian Niswonger and senior Eric Wood also posted times under 18:00.
Versailles ended their season with a 16th-place finish at the state meet.
"The boys ran hard and did their best," commented Pleiman. "You can't ask for much more than that."
One other MAC runner, Sam Wierville from New Knoxville, competed and finished 68th with a time of 17:34.
Only a junior, Sam will use his experience to hopefully guide a talented group of incoming Ranger freshmen to the state meet next year.
Boys Division III
1. Cortland Maplewood 79; 2. Old Fort 154; 3. Toledo Christian 160; 4. Wayne Trace 173; 5. Mount Gilead 176; 12. Minster 238; 16. Versailles 284
(Top five and local)
1. Andy Arnio (Cortland Maplewood) 15:47; 2. Andy Morgan (Cortland Maplewood) 15:55; 3. Christopher Olinger Hange (W. Lafayette Ridgewood) 15:59; 4. David Wilker (Coldwater) 16:00; 5. Heath Armstrong (Fayette Gorham Fayette) 16:07; 44. Casey Heckman (Minster) 17:14; 47. Jamie Kuess (Coldwater) 17:17; 64. Kregg Olding (Minster) 17:31; 69. Sam Wierwille (New Knoxville) 17:34; 69. Clint Hufford (Versailles) 17:35; 78. Ian Nisonger (Versailles) 17:50; 80. Eric Wood (Versailles) 17:51; 98. Troy Niekamp (Minster) 18:08; 101. Joby Stechschulte (Minster) 18:11; 105. David McGowan (Minster) 18:14; 125. Trent Barga (Versailles) 18:33; 127. Jesse Goodfellow (Versailles) 18:33; 127. Matt Harman (Versailles) 18:37; 144. Adam Barga (Versailles) 19:31; 146. Jeremy Shardo (Versailles) 19:33