Unioto cross country coach Matt Paxton enters his seventh year with high hopes of continuing Unioto’s recent run of success. The Shermans enter the 2007 season, owners of the last six Scioto Valley Conference titles. The purple and gold are also the four-time defending district champions, and the past three seasons have brought home regional crowns as well.
Galen Dills leads a very impressive group of runners returning to this year’s team. The senior is the two-time defending SVC champion and his sophomore and junior seasons each ended with a top-ten finishes in the state tournament. Dills is the school’s record holder with his time of 15:48.
Dills will be joined by classmate Marcus Edwards, who was a member of last year’s regional championship team, and junior Mark Flury, who finished 11th in last year’s regional and is the league’s defending long jump champion in track. Unioto also returns last year’s five-man in junior Corey Martin.
The biggest hole Unioto must fill from last year’s team comes as result of the graduation of Chaz Smith. Smith finished 21st in last year’s state tournament. Sophomore Ryan Valentine leads a group of about six kids that have shown the ability to post times in the high 17- or low 18-minute mark. This type of competition is something Paxton attributes to his program’s success.
“It has been my experience that if you have two or three runners with a great work ethic – you will eventually have six or seven,” Paxton said. “When kids are forced to run with guys running at a high level, it motivates them to get there themselves. This program has been blessed with great leaders, and this year’s team is no different.”
This talent and this leadership have Paxton extremely optimistic about this year’s squad. Even though he looks for his Shermans to be even better than his team that was crowned regional champion a year ago, he admits the regional level will most likely be as deep as it as been in recent history.
“With some of the realignment the state is looking at, it is possible that we could have three of the top five teams in the state in our regional,” Paxton said. “It will not be easy, but our goals are definitely going to remain high. These kids have been out running and working extremely hard, and they have some lofty goals that they hope to obtain.”
This competition rise is something the Scioto Valley is witnessing as well, and Paxton thinks it is great for the area.
“Cross country as really grown in the Chillicothe area over the past five years,” Paxton said. “The number of kids in our conference has nearly tripled since I started coaching and that is incredible for the SVC. Our league continues to produce great runners and great teams. The SVC has put as many as four teams in the regional here of late and with the summer conditioning programs improving, I only look for that number to continue to rise.”