Federal Hocking Lancers

Federal Hocking senior Rosemary Stephens (left) and sophomore Evan McPherson (right) are joined by head coach David Miller after the Division III, Region 11 meet last Saturday in Pickerington. Stephens and McPherson will each run in the Division III state cross country championships on Saturday.

Rosemary Stephens and Evan McPherson each battled with injuries last spring during track and field season.

While the wounds at times led to challenges this fall, it hasn’t kept the Federal Hocking duo from reaching the pinnacle of the high school cross country season.

Stephens and McPherson will both compete in Saturday’s Division III OHSAA State Cross Country Championships, held Saturday at Fortress Obetz and Memorial Park.

It’s the second year in a row advancing to state competition for Stephens, while McPherson will make his state cross country debut.

Stephens will end her decorated high school cross country career back at the state meet.

Last year, Stephens became the first female from Federal Hocking to ever advance to the state cross country meet.

She backed that up by returning her senior year after placing 10th at the Division III, Region 11 regional last weekend in Pickerington.

“She certainly put a lot of pressure on herself to make it back the second time,” Federal Hocking cross country coach Dave Miller said. “Wasn’t ready to settle for anything less than that. I think some of the other kids can see that in her, her relentless motivation and unwilling to settle with what she’s done in the past, but continue to try and improve each season.”

Stephens advanced with a time of 21:10.2 in the mud at Pickerington North.

Miller said that Stephens battled an injury last spring in track and field. Because of that, she wasn’t hitting her stride earlier in the summer and fall like she did her junior season.

“She was in top physical fitness shape as far as injury free and over the problems she was having,” Miller said. “So we kind of just decided cross country is a long season. We may be behind somewhat from our summer conditioning than where we were the year before, just to be patient and let the season come to us.”

Miller said Stephens continued to get stronger as she put in the miles, resulting in a repeat first-place finish in the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division race.

Stephens is the only Federal Hocking runner to win two TVC individual titles. Her efforts also helped the Lancers win their first team league title, as Piper Biesinger, Emma Lucas, Olivia Amlin, Sage Helon and Magnolia Ballew helped Federal Hocking to the team title.

Miller said Stephens’ leadership played a role in the Lancers’ championship.

“She’s helped motivate the girls team,” Miller said. “First time in girls’ history the girls won the TVC-Hocking in cross country. All of them together have become more motivated, determined and have the mentality that, yes we can do this like everyone else.”

The Lancers continued to succeed, with the girls’ team qualifying for a spot in the regional tournament.

Stephens was ninth overall in the district meet with a time of 21:36.96. Miller said the Federal Hocking senior looked for improvement going into the regional round.

Stephens ran 26 seconds faster despite the muddy conditions, and finished four slots higher than her 14th-place regional finish from a year ago.

“The course conditions were horrible too, they were extremely wet and muddy,” Miller said. “On the slow side for everyone, but she did the job, did it well and now is moving on.”

While Stephens is winding down her Federal Hocking running career, McPherson is just getting started.

The sophomore’s 19th-place finish at last weekend’s regional meet allowed him to become the first male state cross country qualifier at Federal Hocking since Ron Dunfee in 1972.

McPherson did it while also dealing with a hamstring issue.

Miller said McPherson first suffered the injury during the spring, but had been good all cross country season until the final regular season race at Alexander.

“He was battling for the win with another runner and about two and a half miles into the race, his hamstring issue flared up again and he had to drop out,” Miller said. “He couldn’t continue.”

Miller and McPherson made the decision to sit out the TVC meet, which wasn’t easy to do since Federal Hocking was the host school.

“We all had been excited about that all season,” Miller said. “So for him to have to withdrawal from that, it was hard on him, but we kept the big picture in mind.”

The two weeks of rest paid off for McPherson. He was ninth in the district meet in Rio Grande with a time of 17:51.13.

He followed that up with last Saturday’s time of 18:10.4 in Pickerington, making the state tournament field by a matter of seconds.

“He’s going to the state meet this Saturday and the injury didn’t show back up,” Miller said. “The sacrifice of not doing the league meet, we all see that. It was disappointing at the time, but the big picture was more important. We’re all glad we made that decision.”

Miller said McPherson has unlimited potential. He already broke the school 5K record earlier this season at 16:32.3.

“He’s got a natural talent for this sport unlike I’ve ever witnessed since I’ve been doing it,” Miller said. “He’s beginning to realize that.

“He hasn’t even touched it yet,” Miller added. “He has so much untapped potential.”

Stephens and McPherson will both race on Saturday morning. The Division III girls race gets the event underway at 9 a.m., and the Division III boys race follows at 10 a.m.

Miller said he believes the course in Obetz will help McPherson post a fast time.

“If all goes well, I look for him to run fast on this course,” Miller said. “It is a quick course. With all the competition, you’re surrounded by people all the time. You’re always on the move. That will definitely carry you to a fast time.”

Stephens will aim for another successful run on the course in Obetz. A year ago, she nearly set a personal best time at 20:10.2 for a 53rd place finish in Division III.

Stephens is one of the most decorated cross country runners to ever come out of Federal Hocking, and she’ll look for one more big finish on Saturday.

“I think she’s on course to finish off on a high note,” Miller said. “With her experience and maybe our mentality, the way we approached the season, we’re going to cap it off here at the end with improvement over last year and we’re both confident that can happen.”

Email at kwiseman@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @KevinWmessenger

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