The last time that the Oak Hill boys cross country team qualified for the state meet was 2017.
That year the Red Devils were led by Zachary Webb, Seth Crossier, Ian Bibb, Mason Harp and Reece Bias.
Now a pair of younger brothers, Austin Bias and Chase Crosier, are hoping to match that feat and lead Oak Hill back to the state meet this year.
“We were really young last year, but we have some good numbers. We should also pick up a couple of kids from the middle school that hopefully can contribute as well,” Oak Hill head coach George Smith said.
Success on the trails has been nothing new for the Red Devils who will be looking for their fourth state meet appearance in the last 10 years.
“This will be my 15th or 16th season,” Smith said. “Probably the best success that we had (as a team) was 2012, but it always seems like we have a couple of good kids that are in the mix and qualify for the state meet.”
Smith is quick to note that the success his program has experienced has come in large part to the hard work put in by his staff.
“We have had a solid program because my assistants make me look like I know more than what I do,” Smith said, playfully. “Dan Stowers is truly the mastermind behind our programming and our workouts. He is great to have around. Sometimes we have different opinions on how to train, but usually he wins out on what he says. I definitely respect him a lot and listen to his advice for sure.”
Adding a deeper dimension to the success for Oak Hill has been the relationship between the high school and middle school programs.
“The coaches over at the middle school, Shay Willard and John Lopez, they put in a lot of work. We try to include the middle school in everything that we do. We try to schedule meets that our middle school can go to also,” Smith explained. “Not only does the middle school get to see the high school run, then the high school watches the middle school. We really try to keep things together, so it’s like a 6-12 team versus a 9-12 team. Those younger athletes want to be where the older athletes are, so that is helpful.”
With the top three teams from Region 3 earning a trip to the state’s biggest meet, the Red Devils narrowly missed a bid last year finishing fourth behind Woodrow Wilson, St. Albans and George Washington.
The positive part for Oak Hill amidst that disappointment?
All five runners that placed at regionals will be back this year. Along with Bias and Crosier, Marc King, Braden Stone and Caleb Carver are back to hopefully erase that sour taste in their mouths.
Bias is the team leader and has been steady throughout his high school career.
After placing 15th as a freshman and 11th as a sophomore in regional competition, Bias raced home in fifth place last year.
“Austin is one of those kids that nothing bothers him. He is unphased by things that comes his way,” Smith said. “He is not bothered by the pain of the race or the weather. He just goes out and runs. Reece was the same way. Austin is built more for the longer runs. He is a tall kid that is very lean and his running form is great.”
While Smith expects another solid year from his senior standout, if the Red Devils are to make a return to the state meet, the other four runners must continue to improve.
The veteran coach is confident that his troops can get the job done.
“Chase is going to be better. It is hard to ask Austin to be better. We hope he can get up there in the top-3 which would be great,” Smith said. “To ask Chase, who finished 14th, to better his position by five (places) is doable. To ask Mark who finished 23rd, to better his position by five or so, is doable.”
“Caleb was a freshman last year and he is just really learning how to run. He will be in the mix,” Smith went on to say. “Braden is probably one of our most improved kids from his freshman to sophomore year. That is a kid that is knocking on the door to break that 20-minute barrier which is huge for a runner. If all of those kids can better themselves by six or seven (positions) and then Austin maybe gets better by one, as team, that is a lot. I feel really strong about our boys team.”
The task of making the state meet will be daunting for Oak Hill on the girls side with the top four teams from last years regional meet returning the bulk of their lineups.
However, just like the boys team, the Red Devils return all five regional qualifiers on the girls side also.
Olivia Honaker, Nancy Cline and Joi Carver are all back for their junior year, while Tianna Duncan and Jordyn Floyd are back as sophomores.
“Olivia is a leader. She is an R.O.T.C. cadet and she is way older than her age suggests. Joi joined late and only ran two or three meets last year. Tianna and Jordan both finished inside the top-20 as freshman at regionals,” Smith said. “You take your lumps as a freshman and a sophomore. There is a big difference in an 14-year old and an 18-year old. We are starting to see these kids grow some and they are ready to make a statement for themselves in cross country.”