State cross-country: Better late than never for Lebanon’s breakthrough

1:51 p.m Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 Sports
The Centerville Elks boys cross-country team, shown warming up at the Division I district championships, are part of a strong GWOC presence at the state cross-country championships in Hebron on Saturday. GREG BILLING / CONTRIBUTED

The Lebanon Warriors’ trip to the high school boys cross-country state meet came one season later than expected. But when you’ve waited 52 years between appearances, what’s one more?

Lebanon’s only appearance at the state meet came in 1964 when the championship race was two miles. For that reason the Warriors consider this their first state appearance, at least for the 5K (3.1-mile) era. The state meet is Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.

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“We’re viewing this as a breakthrough,” coach Mark Bierkan said. “From here on out, our team’s goal is not to make it to state but where do we want to finish? We’re going to change the mindset of it.”

In 2016 the Warriors expected to qualify for state. But a hot day left a couple of them struggling. Lebanon finished ninth as two runners failed to finish.

This season the Warriors entered with uncertain expectations following their performance at the Greater Western Ohio Conference. They finished fifth in the league behind Centerville, Springboro, Beavercreek and Miamisburg. But the Warriors rallied at the regional meet to finish fourth on Oct. 28 in Troy. The top five teams qualified for state. Lebanon even beat Springboro and Beavercreek.

“It’s exciting. I’ve been in the team circles when they read the teams’ finishes (over the public address system) from last place to the qualifying teams,” Bierkan said. “I’ve been in the circles where they get to seventh and sixth and you just missed. Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces, it’s pretty exciting to finally break through.”

Sophomore Sam Duncan led Lebanon in 10th place overall. Seniors Jackson Siddall, David Klenk and Joel Robison followed. Sophomore Aaron Guzman was the Warriors’ fifth runner and freshman Carter Davidson and Bryce Davis completed the seven-runner team.

“We had a pretty good team last year and went to regional meet with the expectation we were going to do it,” Bierkan said. “We had some issues. This year going in, I don’t know if we viewed it as an expectation, but as we’re going to run our best and well enough to make everyone try to beat us. … At state if we can try to finish in the 12-15 range that’s a pretty good goal for us.”

On the girls side, Lebanon freshman Faith Ducan also qualified. She hasn’t finished worse than fourth in any race this season.

“The GWOC, especially on the girls side, is pretty crazy. It’s challenging,” Bierkan said. “She has a crazy amount of talent. She hopes to get on the podium her freshman year.”

The GWOC is well represented at the D-I meet, led by the Centerville girls who go for their third straight D-I state championship. Springboro, Beavercreek and Troy also qualified as teams in the girls meet.

“We’re approaching it as (one state title),” Centerville coach David Dobson said. “Let’s just go try to win this year. They’re not giving out awards for anything we’ve done in the past. I think they’re excited about what they can do.”

Along with Lebanon, Centerville’s boys also qualified in D-I.

In D-II, Eaton and Brookville compete in the boys meet with Tippecanoe and Bellbrook in the girls.

Fort Loramie looks to defend its D-III boys state championship in a race that also includes Minster, St. Henry and Houston.

Minster’s girls, making the program’s state-leading 30th appearance, have won nine state titles including last season’s D-III championship. St. Henry, Fort Loramie, Versailles and Russia also qualified in D-III girls.