DARKE COUNTY – Three athletes who were among the best in all of Ohio this season are The Daily Advocate’s athletes of the year for their respective sports.
Versailles’ Danielle Winner has been named The Daily Advocate’s volleyball player 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.
Winner helped guide the Versailles volleyball team to the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state championship this season. She led the Tigers with 40 kills in the state final four, leading the Tigers to wins against Tuscarawas Valley and Midwest Athletic Conference rival Coldwater.
“We relied on her quite a bit,” Versailles volleyball coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “The end of the Miami East (regional final) game, the fifth game against Coldwater … we knew she was going to find a way to get the point.”
Winner led Versailles with 383 kills and 133 blocks this season. For her efforts the Lady Tiger senior earned third team all-Ohio recognition from the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association.
“It just reflects her hard work and what she did at practice,” Bruggeman said.
No matter the situation, Versailles always could depend on Winner, Bruggeman said, as she didn’t get rattled. She rose to the occasion and wanted the ball hit her direction when the Tigers needed a big play.
“She’ll be very adaptable and adjustable on what she needs to do and finds another path to success,” Bruggeman said.
Spitzer finished his high school cross country career with a fifth place finish in the OHSAA Division II state cross country meet.
“I know he wasn’t satisfied with it, but running against the best of the best, being in the fifth spot was a tremendous accomplishment,” Versailles cross country coach Mark Pleiman said.
Spitzer led all Darke County cross country runners with a personal-best time of 15:41.70 this season, which was almost 40 seconds faster than any other runner. Spitzer’s personal-best time also is second fastest in Versailles history behind two-time state champion Sam Prakel.
“In most other programs, he’s your No. 1 record holder,” Pleiman said. “Just a tremendous kid. Great runner.”
The OHSAA state championship race and the Tiffin Carnival were the only races that Spitzer didn’t win this season as he dominated the competition throughout the year.
“Fantastic season,” Pleiman said. “Fantastic career at Versailles. He had nine wins this year and only a couple of losses. Overall just extremely happy for him, proud of him. He has an amazing work ethic. It will be exciting to watch him at the next level. I know he’ll be great.”
Spitzer’s natural ability combined with his work ethic make him one of the best runners to ever come out of Darke County.
“He definitely has the genetics for it, that’s for sure, but he’s got that drive and determination and work ethic as well as the genetics,” Pleiman said. “He’s the complete package.”
Knepp led all Darke County girls with a personal-best time of 19:06.80, which was 36 seconds faster than anyone else in the county.
“I’m happy with Karmen’s season,” Bradford cross country coach Rob Grilliot said. “I know she didn’t end up where she wanted to be, but fortunately she still has another year to make it back to the state meet and fulfill some of her goals. Hopefully, next year her team will be competing at the state meet along with her.”
Knepp, a two-time state qualifier in cross country, had a number of big wins this season including the Cross County Conference championship.
“I was pleased to see her win the CCC championship and place second at the district meet,” Grilliot said. “She works hard so it’s very rewarding to see her come away with those kind of finishes at the big meets.”
The Bradford junior already is starting to prepare for what’s ahead including the upcoming track and field season and next year’s cross country season.
“The work doesn’t stop for Karmen, though,” Grilliot said. “She took a few weeks off, and I know she’s getting ready to start training again. She’ll be competing in a few indoor track meets this winter and then start gearing up for track in the spring.”