Boys Cross Country: Pickerington North look to build on 2019 state finish

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Nick Whitehead is the only senior among the top seven runners for the North boys cross country team and 18th-year coach Tim Starkey.

Pickerington North boys cross country coach Tim Starkey isn't placing the pressure of high expectations on his team yet, but his runners themselves might be a different story.

After watching 2020 graduate Matt Duvall win the Division I state championship and the team finish fifth in its third consecutive appearance at the meet, the Panthers are eager to add to the legacy.

What stands out to Starkey -- who is in his 18th season and is the only head coach in program history -- is their approach.

"Last year was a stellar year for Pickerington North cross country and our whole goal was for this team to learn from those guys. They really did," Starkey said. "I didn't think I'd see this kind of results from them this early. They're filling really big shoes. They learned from some of the best in the business and they're taking it to heart.

"They're quiet competitors. They don't have the social aspect that the team from last year had but they want to compete. This squad is all business and we find that sometimes, we have to get them to loosen up and not be so serious all the time."

Senior Nick Whitehead, juniors Isaac Glanzman, Carson Jones and Jackson Roes, sophomores Aidan Eberhardt and Justin Schumacher and freshman Ian Ricker comprised the top seven when the season began Aug. 29 with North's annual Pickerington Classic.

The Panthers lost all of their top five from the state meet to graduation, a group rounded out by Spencer Moledor, Harper Moore, Aaron Moraine and Daniel Newman.

Duvall and Moore now run at Kentucky.

Duvall, a four-time state qualifier and the team's first state champion, won all but one race last year and holds the program record of 14 minutes, 57.9 seconds.

Ricker, whom Starkey called "a stellar freshman," immediately challenged for time in the top five as North prepares to go for its third OCC-Ohio Division championship in four years.

"Nick is an absolute leader. He will be leading our pack," Starkey said. "It's fluid between (the Nos.) 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (spots). Whoever is having a stellar day will be right behind Nick.

"They were students of the sport last year, learning everything and taking it to heart. I think that will pay off this season."

State qualifier returns for Tigers

Senior Chase Balko, who finished 139th last year in his first state appearance, is back to lead a Central team that returns every runner who finished the season in the top seven.

Classmate Brycen Rogers, juniors Jacob Brown, Gavin Kelly, Owen Sauer and Jailen Willis and sophomore Andrew Scrape also are back for Central, which opened at the Pickerington Classic.

According to 17th-year coach Andy Fischer, Balko's preseason training drew praise from some former program greats.

"He had a workout, maybe a month ago, where he was doing a 13-mile run and 11 straight of that, he averaged between 5:53 and 5:45, which we all thought was pretty darn amazing," Fischer said. "We even talked with (2018 graduate and three-time state qualifier) Matt Scrape and he was pretty impressed. We feel Chase has something going this year. He's ready to get out and race and see what he can do against some of the other top talent in the area.

"When you have somebody like Matt, Jack (Jaynes) or Brady (Johnson) or Steven (Bauers) say this guy is doing something well, you take that seriously. They were awesome runners. Chase really is doing some good stuff."

This year's nucleus led Central to fourth-place finishes in the OCC-Ohio and district 1 meets and 16th at regional last year.

Freshman Jackson Morse also is expected to challenge for time in the top seven.

"We have a definite top 10. The fourth through seventh guys could switch places a bit and so could (Nos.) 7-10," said Fischer, whose team has moved to the OCC-Buckeye after the latest conference realignment. "I really like where we are."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

At a glance

PICKERINGTON CENTRAL

*Coach: Andy Fischer, 17th season

*Top athletes: Chase Balko, Jacob Brown, Brycen Rogers and Jailen Willis

*Key losses: Anthony Taranto and Gavin Wallace

*2019 OCC-Ohio standings: Pickerington North (33), Gahanna (36), Lancaster (78), Pickerington Central (104), Reynoldsburg (110), Grove City (173)

*2019 postseason: Fourth at district, 16th at regional

PICKERINGTON NORTH

*Coach: Tim Starkey, 18th season

*Top athletes: Carson Jones, Jackson Roes, Justin Schumacher and Nick Whitehead

*Key losses: Matt Duvall, Spencer Moledor, Harper Moore, Aaron Moraine

*2019 postseason: First at district, fifth at regional, fifth at state