Its third consecutive TVC Hocking Division cross-country crown in hand, Belpre's boys team is "peaking about the right time," said head coach Jim Cunningham, to effectively compete and be in contention in Saturday's district meet at the University of Rio Grande.
Still though from where his team began until now, "it's been an up-and-down year for us," said Cunningham.
He lost one expected returnee and "our No. 5 guy graduated, so we knew it would be an uphill battle to have as much success as we did last year."
Then, Cunningham added, after the opening meet, "our No. 3 guy, Matt Davis, broke his jaw skateboarding and was out six weeks."
''So we just kept truckin' along, truckin' along though, got Matt back and got him in shape now. Our No. 1 guy, Cray Sistrunk, was battling lower leg, back and calf injuries all year. But he's healthy now, pretty much 100 percent as is Matt."
Last Saturday at Alexander (Lake Snowden), three Golden Eagle runners nabbed all-TVC honors, as No. 2 Kyle Windland came in second, Sistrunk finished third and Davis placed fourth.
Then based on overall best individual times for the year, the 28 district coaches voted and tabbed the Belpre boys the No. 2 district seed for Saturday's meet, topped only by Leesburg Fairfield at No. 1.
"But they split our district meet into two separate races," said Cunningham, who noted "they do that in track also. When they have enough schools, they split into two. So we're actually in the other race - the No. 1 seed goes here, No. 2 there and right on back and forth down the line. So we're really seeded No. 1 in our race."
Plus, Belpre comes into Saturday as defending district champs. "So we're all excited about the possibility of repeating," said Cunningham, especially since "at the beginning of the season, it didn't seem like we'd have a chance at that. But everybody stepped up. So as a team, we're tight, working hard and just excited; we can't wait for Saturday.
"We've got our fingers crossed. If everyone runs their best race, we should have an excellent chance of repeating" and advancing to the regional, one step from the state meet, at Pickerington North High School.
"I don't want to sound like we're going to win it, but time-wise, we're right there neck and neck with the other two top (contending) schools, Lynchburg-Clay and Wheelersburg."
Too, although Belpre doesn't field a full girls cross country team, Cunningham does have two girls who he thinks "have an excellent chance of finishing in the top 16 Saturday to move on to the regional in Mackenzie Rice and Ashley Carter."
The Belpre boys' best times this year are Sistrunk, who qualified for the state last year as a freshman, with a 16:41, down from 17:11 last year; Windland at 17:24; Davis at 18:06; No. 4 Matt Lopreste at 19:15; and No. 5 Joel Starner at 20:10. "So they've all got some good times," said Cunningham. "It's just can we do it on Saturday?"
Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at email@example.com