By Rob Kiser
HOUSTON — The Houston community has also been like a family.
And it is no different with the high school cross country program — the boys will make history Saturday when they become the first Houston team to make it to state in the sport — and they will be preceded by junior Hollie Voisard running in the girls race at state.
“We don’t really look at it as a boys team or girls team,” Bill McKinney, who along with Ron Boeke and Tyler Roeth coaches the Houston cross country team. “We are one team. When Hollie (Voisard) made it to state Saturday (in the girls race), the boys were excited and it really pumped them up. This is a great group of kids and they have worked really hard.”
Junior Tristin Freistuhler led the boys with a12th-place finish in 17:04.9 at the regional Saturday.
“We probably started thinking about it (going to state) at some point last year,” Freistuhler said. “It is exciting to accomplish our goal. It was definitely a goal at the beginning of the season. I really haven’t thought about that (being the first Houston cross country team to qualify for state as a team), but it is exciting realizing we are going to be running at state.”
Ethan Knouff, also a junior, was the next finisher for Houston Saturday — taking 14th in 17:08.0.
“I think at some point last year, we started thinking about going to state,” Knouff said. “This is just a good group of guys. I know it may seem like we goof off a lot, but work really hard and are focused.”
The course will not be new for the Wildcats.
“We ran the course at the pre-season meet (sponsored by the OHSAA),” Knouff said. “But, the atmosphere will be completely different Saturday. It is exciting to reach our goal.”
Rounding out the Houston runners at the regional were sophomore Blake Jacobs, 44, 18:08.3; senior Dakota Francis, 49, 18:12.9; junior Jacob Slater, 51, 18:15.5; senior Parker Cox, 65, 18:41.8; and sophomore Patrick Meiring, 74, 18:56.9.
“We will have some new runners come into the program (next year) and it is definitely a realistic shot (to make it to state next year),” Knouff said. “That would be nice.”
But, right now all the runners are focused on Saturday.
“One of the things I told the kids is you just can’t be thinking you will be over there again next year,” McKinney said. “You don’t know about next year, so take advantage of the moment.”
While Voisard has no explanation for her improvement this season, the results speak for themselves.
After finishing 21st at district in 21:45.20, Voisard finished 12th at the regional Saturday in 20:39.5 to earn a berth at state.
While Voidard finished 42nd in the district meet last year in 21:55.56; she showed improvement immediately this year.
She opened the season with an 18th-place finish at the Bob Schul in 21:13.4.
“I didn’t even make it to regionals last year,” Voisard said. “The first race of the year, I started thinking about it. I remember thinking that went a lot better than last year. I was kind of surprised.”
McKinney said no one should ever sell Voisard short.
“I think there are a combination of things that have led to Hollie’s improvement,” he said. “We were pleasantly surprised at that first race. Hollie is a very competitive girl. I think that is one of the things that really helps her.”
But, Voisard admits she didn’t know what to think after qualifying for state Saturday.
“I just kind of blanked out after crossing the finish line,” she said. “Then everybody came up and started congratulating me.”
And she is not discounting another surprise Saturday at state.
“It helps a lot (having the boys there and not being there by herself),” Voisard said. “You never know, anything can happen.”
And McKinney knows this season can have a big impact on the season.
“I think these kids remember what it was like running in junior high,” he said. “And the junior high kids look up to them. It definitely is a motivator for them. They see what can happen when you work hard.”
Like make school history and send eight runnersfrom the “family” to the state meet.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.