DARKE COUNTY – A pair of runners who qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association state cross country meet are this year’s Darke County cross country runners of the year.
Bradford’s Karmen Knepp has been named The Daily Advocate’s girls cross country runner of the year, and Versailles’ Joe Spitzer has been named The Daily Advocate’s boys cross country runner of the year.
Knepp was one of two local girls to qualify for the state cross country meet along with Arcanum’s Marcy Bradshaw. The Bradford freshman had the top finish at state among the local girls as she finished 35th with a time of 19:43.2.
“I’m very impressed,” Bradford cross country coach Bob Daugherty said. “I’m excited just because she was the first athlete I’ve ever taken to state, which has kind of made me very excited.”
Knepp exploded on to the scene immediately, setting Bradford’s school record in her very first cross country race in the season opener at Milton-Union’s Bob Schul Invitational. She broke her own school record three times throughout the course of the season.
While Daugherty knew he had a strong talent in the first-year runner, he had no idea how special Knepp was.
“I didn’t think she was at the level that she was,” Daugherty said. “She just continued to impress me time and time again throughout the season.”
Knepp set her personal best this season with a time of 19:14 at the Cross County Conference meet, where she finished fourth overall. She followed that up with a third place finish at the OHSAA district meet and a seventh place finish at the OHSAA regional meet.
She did all that even though she’d never run cross country prior to this season.
“What really shocked me is she’d never run cross country before, and she had such a great season,” Daugherty said.
Being so inexperienced, Knepp had to learn how to race throughout the season.
“I think she’s going to run smarter next year,” Daugherty said. “She made a lot of rookie mistakes.”
Now that she knows what it takes to compete with the best, Daugherty expects Knepp will only get better. He thinks she could make state in cross country three more times, and he also thinks she could make state in track and field.
“I’m hoping that this summer she works hard, she gets some miles in during the summer and comes out and just builds on what she did this year,” Daugherty said. “I’m really looking forward to next cross country season.”
And with Knepp’s success, Daugherty already has heard from other girls in the Bradford school district who are interested in trying cross country.
“This whole season, it’s been good for the whole team to see that,” Daugherty said. “I’m hoping next year to build on to where we have more athletes make it to regionals and maybe more athletes make it to state.”
Spitzer was the lone Darke County boy to qualify for state in cross country. He finished 37th in the state meet with a time of 16:34.7.
The Versailles sophomore was the fastest Darke County runner throughout the 2015 cross country season. He set a personal-best time of 16:24, which is fifth fastest in Versailles’ history.
“He definitely has the talent and the hard work and the drive to do well,” Versailles cross country coach Mark Pleiman said. “He’s a very smart runner, knows what he’s doing, knows how to achieve his goals.”
Among his highlights this year Spitzer won the Midwest Athletic Conference championship and the Treaty City Invitational championship.
He’s a very smart runner, Pleiman said, which combined with his natural athletic ability makes him a special athlete.
“His mom and dad have definitely ingrained that in him,” Pleiman said. “The whole family is very active in the running community. They know what they’re doing. A lot of times the athletes show up and there’s a lot of coaching to be done. But with Joe he’s just such a natural. He already has most of it figured out. Smart kid.”
Being just a sophomore, Spitzer has the potential to get even better and become one of the state’s best runners.
“Thinking toward next year, I definitely see him running low, low 16s and high 15s as a junior,” Pleiman said. “And really the sky is the limit from there. He just has that magic combination of athletic ability, the drive, the determination and the knowledge.”