VERSAILLES – He’s been running 5Ks since he was 7 years old, but none of them have been bigger than the race Joe Spitzer is preparing for this week.
The Versailles sophomore will compete in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II boys state cross country meet at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
“It will be interesting,” Spitzer said. “I’ve never really been in such a big race before, but all I can do is try my best and see how things end up.”
Spitzer has big goals for the meet, and his running career, but that’s nothing new for him. He had his eyes on a trip to state even before he began his high school cross country career.
“I ran (5Ks) quite a bit before I started cross country, and I was pretty good at them,” Spitzer said. “So when I started cross country then that’s when I thought, hey, maybe I can make it to state.”
As a freshman Spitzer made it to the regional meet and finished 21st, which was just five spots out of state-qualifying position.
“It was kind of disappointing to come so close but not make it,” he said. “But then this year I told myself I was going to make it to state even though we were in Division II this year.”
Spitzer achieved his goal this year, becoming one of the top runners in the area and in Versailles history while doing so.
As a sophomore Spitzer has won the Midwest Athletic Conference championship and the Treaty City Invitational championship in addition to finishing near the top in many other races. He’s dropped his personal best time from 17:10 all the way down to 16:24, which is fifth best 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.”
Spitzer has honed his knowledge of running by being active in the sport since he was 7 years old and having a family that is very passionate about running.
“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.”
Going into the state meet Spitzer hopes to drop his personal best by 10 more seconds down to 16:14. At the 2014 state meet a 16:14 would have been good enough for a top 10 finish.
A 16:14 also would move Spitzer up to second in the Versailles record books behind two-time cross country state champion Sam Prakel.
“From what I’ve heard the course is pretty fast so if the weather is good it’s definitely doable,” Spitzer said.
In order to achieve his goal of dropping 10 seconds from his personal best, Spitzer plans to use the strategy that worked for him at regionals on Saturday.
“I’m going to try the same strategy that I did at regionals because I PRed there by five seconds last week,” he said. “I tried to go out a little slower and then pick it up later in the race. It worked.”
Regardless of how he does Saturday, Spitzer knows that he’s still young and has time to improve and reach more of his goals.
“I’ve still got two years to make some more improvements,” he said. “And also in track. I’m hoping to make it to state in track, too.”
And if Spitzer keeps working, he could achieve his goals and be Versailles’ next great runner.
“This is really big time for him,” Pleiman said. “Thinking toward next year, I definitely see him running low, low 16s and high 15s as a junior. 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.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.