By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Forty points separated the state runner-up (Marlow) from the seventh-place finisher (Oklahoma Bible Academy) at the Class 3A boys state cross country championships last year.
That’s something OBA coach Clellie Richards has emphasized to his team as it prepares for its first meet of the season at Mustang today.
If the tradition-rich Trojans are to return to the throne room at the state championships, they have to have more depth.
“It was a real deep field last year and I expect the same thing this year,’’ said Richards, whose team was ranked as high as No. 2 in 2012. “We need to be deeper from No. 3 to No. 9.’’
Merritt Suenram, a two-time All-Stater, was hampered by injuries his junior season. He ended up 27th at state, but there was no one to take up the slack below him.
“That’s something we had in the past,’’ Richards said. “If you have depth, it doesn’t affect you as much if your No. 1 or No. 2 guy doesn’t do as well. You can’t put everything on two or three guys.’’
The top is solid again with Suenram back healthy as well as Blaine Whitson, who was fourth at state. Both could be individual state contenders with the graduation of Chandler’s Chris Lowery, who won the 3A title by 34 seconds a year ago.
“They will be able to compete against anybody who we run against,’’ Richards said, “but they need to stay healthy. It doesn’t take much to throw off your game when that happens (injuries).’’
Richards is hopeful the depth is there, too. OBA lost only one runner from a year ago.
Returning are Carson Combest, 48th at state; Chase Wehrenberg, 63rd; Issac Harris, 85th and Josh Barnthouse, 100th.
“We’re always optimistic,’’ Richards said. “We were a challenger for state last year and I see no reason why we couldn’t be a challenger for state this year. I think we will be faster in those spots. I’ve seen improvement.’’
One reason for Richards’ optimism is numbers.
The Trojans have 18 runners out, including Brendan Arnold, who was a regular on the 2011 state runner-up team.
Freshman Trent Gray will run on the varsity today. Jacob Streckbeck and Hunter Grimm, two other freshmen, are promising runners.
Richards expects it may take five or six meets before he has a set lineup.
“That makes for a better team,’’ he said. “The good thing about cross country is its objective. You can compare times from varsity and JV meets because they are running the same course at about the same time. If someone on JV is running faster than someone on varsity, you can give them a chance the next week. It’s always a positive when you have competition.’’
OBA plans to go to several 6A-type meets such as Mustang and Bartlesville, among others.
“That gives us a good idea of where we are at,’’ Richards said.
While the boys numbers are good, the girls team currently has only four members. Ryan Turpin will be the only girl running at Mustang.
Lauren Arnold, Madeline Choate and Katie Irwin round out the team. Richards said OBA should get the fifth runner necessary to be included in team standings for the regionals.
Some former runners, now playing fastpitch softball, plan to be available after that season is over.
“It makes for a better team when you can work together all year,’’ Richards said. “You learn from each other and help each other out.’’
OBA does not host a meet this year.