The Pike County connection to the Shawnee State University cross country and track programs is very strong.

Over the past four years, Piketon graduate Seth Farmer has made a name for himself as an elite runner for the Bears. For three of those four years, Farmer has been joined by Waverly graduate Hunter Hoover, a strong runner in his own right. Both have had multiple national cross county championship appearances with the Bears, and Farmer has a national track championship in the one-mile, along with being a four-time NAIA All-American in track and cross country. He has also collected numerous MSC (Mid-South Conference) Runner or Track Athlete of the Week awards over his career.

Their influence on SSU Head Cross Country Coach Eric Putnam and their respective high schools of Piketon and Waverly has led to an influx of runners from both schools joining the SSU ranks. Piketon grad Jacob Nichols, currently a sophomore, has been running both track and cross country.

Waverly graduate Trevor Penrod is listed as a freshman on the cross country roster. With the beginning of the academic school year in the fall, three additional runners will be joining the ranks, including Waverly graduates Aidan Judd and Phil Evory, along with Piketon graduate Jarrett Klinker.

Their coach, Eric Putnam, talked about the two Pike County runners, Seth Farmer and Hunter Hoover, who have been leading his running teams.

“They are among my top guys this year,” said Putnam in Oct. of 2019. “Guys like Seth (Farmer) and Hunter (Hoover) make me look like I really know what I am doing. That’s terribly flattering, but the truth is that those guys just work so hard.”

Any opportunities for Farmer and Hoover to add to their accolades this spring were cut short with the cancellations due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 concerns. The NAIA is expected to grant more eligibility to college athletes who lost a season, but the official details are unclear at this time.

The remainder of this story will focus on Farmer and Hoover and their successes as Shawnee State University Bears. Both led their respective high school teams before doing the same at SSU.

SETH FARMER — HIGH SCHOOL

As a young freshman at Piketon High School, Seth Farmer and classmate Kane Dixon reached the state track meet in June 2012 as members of the Redstreaks’ 3,200-meter relay team that also included Austin Buchanan and Josh Cornett. The group finished 15th overall in 8:28.15, which was 13 seconds slower than their regional time of 8:15.05.

A family move took Farmer to Columbus during his sophomore season and part of his junior year, but a return to Piketon saw him pick up where he left off running with his Redstreak teammates. In their junior track season as Redstreaks, Farmer and Dixon made it back to the state meet as members of the 3,200-meter relay team. Joined by classmates Zack Varney and Jordan Pendleton, the group was one second away from their best time of the year with an 8:16.05, but finished 12th in the field of 16 relay teams in the Division III race.

Farmer was back competing at state the next day as an individual. He had some struggles in the third lap of his 1,600-meter race, but Farmer recovered and pushed through for a seventh place finish in 4:25.45 and become an All-Ohioan for the first time.

With Farmer back on the PHS cross country roster as a senior, the Redstreaks made their mark at state by finishing fifth overall as a team. The group included Kane Dixon, Zack Varney, Seth Farmer, Jordan Pendleton, Austin Taylor, Jacob Nichols and Austin Spencer. They achieved that fifth place finish after coming into the competition ranked 13th.

In outdoor track, it was back to state in two events for Farmer. Dixon and Farmer returned for their third time in the 3,200-meter relay and achieved their goal of reaching the podium with Austin Taylor and Stefan Thacker making up the remainder of the team. Dixon was dealing with a stress reaction in his leg, but he still managed to help the group make All-Ohio. Farmer, Dixon, Thacker and Taylor combined to finish eighth in 8:13.26 to land on the final spot of the podium.

Once again, Farmer returned to action Saturday and earned All-Ohio for the second straight day and third time in his high school track and field career. He finished fifth in the 1,600-meter run in 4:24.58, which was quicker than the time he ran as a junior.

SETH FARMER — COLLEGE

Just two months later, Farmer began his Shawnee State University career with a redshirt year, so he could become acclimated to the college life and running at that level.

“I redshirted my freshman year through cross country and indoor and outdoor track. That was a huge deal. It affected our cross country and track teams some, because I was a top contender and was supposed to help the team right away,” explained Farmer.

“It worked out really well for me, but I had a lot of learning experience by running with the team and being in the college environment. I got a lot faster and got more mileage, training and workouts in during that year. Getting used to that level of college running was really nice.”

That experience truly paid dividends for Farmer, who moved into a leadership role quickly.

“Going into my second year, my red-shirt freshman year, cross country went well. We made it to nationals,” said Farmer, who said that Shawnee State finished 10th overall out of 36 teams in the Nov. 19, 2016, meet that was run on the Principia College North Farm in Elsah, Illinois.

Farmer was disappointed in his own result at that race, where he finished the 8K course in 26:01.1 for 102nd place. But he took it all in stride.

“I was our third man and ran badly,” said Farmer. It was an awesome experience though because it was a learning experience since I had never been to nationals before. So it was really nice to be there, learn and get prepared for the next year.”

Even though he was disappointed in his own performance, Farmer used it for fuel for the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.

“It was the same with indoor and outdoor track,” said Farmer. “I went to nationals. I didn’t get any All-Americans, but it was really cool to be there. Again, it was a huge learning experience as well for me.”

In the indoor national meet at East-Tennessee Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tennessee, in early March of 2017, Farmer and teammates A.J. Barber, Parker Blain and Adrian Ross competed in the men’s distance medley, finishing 13th out of 18 in 10:22.38.

For the remainder of national track and field meet appearances, Farmer either competed in the mile (indoor) or the 1,500-meter run (outdoor).

At the NAIA outdoor national meet at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in late May of 2017, Farmer competed in the 1,500-meter run preliminiaries, finishing 18th in 4:00.43. He would have needed to finish 12th or better to make the finals.

To start his second year of competing (sophomore redshirt year), Farmer experienced the NAIA National Cross Country meet for the second time with the Bears since they qualified as a team. The championship meet took place Nov. 18, 2017 at Ft. Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington, once again.

As a team, the Bears finished 27th out of 36. But Farmer led the way, finishing 55th in 25:48.7. A total of 326 runners completed the race.

Then came indoor track season where Farmer made the NAIA National Championship individually. He traveled to the Pittsburg St. Robert W. Plaster Center in Pittsburg, Kansas, for competition March 1-3, 2018.

Farmer qualified seventh in the mile preliminary run in 4:14.27. He followed that effort by finishing fifth in the final race in 4:11.46 to become an NAIA All-American for the first time.

Once again, Farmer qualified for the outdoor national meet, which was held at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the second straight year on May 24-26, 2018. He ran for 15th place in the 1,500 prelim in 4:02.47, missing the cut for the finals by three spots and a handful of seconds.

“I was able to pick up an All-American (award) in the indoor mile which was huge for me,” said Farmer. “I got fifth, which was a huge improvement for me. Finally some work had paid off for me a little bit. In outdoor (track nationals), I didn’t get it (All-American status). It was a tough race, and I didn’t get out (in front).”

Farmer really blasted off in his junior season, leading the Bears to the NAIA National Cross Country Championship once again. Leading them there was only the beginning.

Farmer had a strong junior cross country campaign leading up to the national competition, including winning the Mid-South Conference Championship 8K in 25:24.4, nearly 14 seconds ahead of the runner-up from Campbellsville University on Nov. 3, 2018. That win was just 13 days ahead of the national race.

Running the NAIA Championship course at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Nov. 16, 2018, Farmer powered his way to 14th in the field of 331 runners, finishing the 8K course in a time of 24:50.3. That effort earned Farmer All-American status in cross country for the first time.

The All-American performance in cross country was eventually followed by winning his national championship in the mile just a few short months later. The NAIA National Indoor Track and Field championships were contested at the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex in Brookings, South Dakota, from Feb. 28 through March 2, 2019.

In the preliminary race, Farmer warmed up by running for second place in a time of 4:20.57, securing his place in the finals. Then in the final race, Farmer shaved off almost nine seconds, winning in 4:11.79, edging runner-up Tim Thacker of Milligan, who finished in 4:12.94.

“This year has gone really well. I got 14th at (cross country) nationals, ran a PR (personal record), and earned my second All-American at that time,” said Farmer during an interview in the spring of 2019.

“In my indoor (track) season, I won the mile, which was a different and another level of experiences and accomplishments. A lot of work paid off, which was really rewarding and awesome.”

In outdoor competition, Farmer qualified for the NAIA National Championship once again in the 1,500-meter run. He traveled to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the preliminary race where he finished 14th in 4:05.29 to wrap up his junior season of competition.

Farmer stepped up his efforts once again when he was going into his final collegiate cross country season.

“Right now we have been focusing on cross country season. I ran a lot of summer miles,” said Farmer at the time of the interview on Oct. 17, 2019. “I actually went to Colorado and stayed in Boulder for two months in the summer and trained for altitude. It has been paying off really well. It was a lot of solid miles and real consistency.”

Farmer didn’t go to Boulder alone, as Piketon teammate Kane Dixon joined him for the two month training trip. Dixon has been running throughout his college career at Miami University (Ohio).

“We saw a bear on the first long run we did,” said Farmer, reflecting on Colorado.

Winning a national championship in track just six months earlier was surreal to Farmer.

“It was really cool. It actually still hasn’t set in,” he said. “I don’t think it will until maybe after I graduate.”

Farmer likes being able to give back to the university that has given him so much. He feels that his success is bringing other runners to the fold.

“It helps the SSU team a lot with recruiting. Having runners win a national title is a big deal, so a lot more people see that achievement and would want to come a school knowing that they are developing national champions,” said Farmer. “We have a lot of guys from southern Ohio. We only have one guy on our team who isn’t from Ohio. It is so cool that we have those guys and good guys from Ohio.”

The Bears were enjoying a very successful cross country season at the time of the interview.

“We are really focusing on cross county right now. It has gone great,” said Farmer. “We got second to Ohio State at the Jenna Strong Invitational at Wilmington (Ohio).”

The Jenna Strong Invitational featured 33 teams from colleges in the tri-state area with a handful of Division I schools, including Ohio State. Although he didn’t mention it in his team-focused interview, Farmer won the race, finishing the 8K course in 24:36.5. Teammate Hunter Hoover was fourth in 25:24.7. Completing the top 10 in between Farmer and Hoover were five runners from Ohio State, two from Wright State and one from Ashland University.

That wasn’t the only time Farmer competed against runners from Ohio State. He actually had the opportunity to compete at Ohio State at the Jesse Owens Classic both in the spring of 2017 and 2018. That meant he was competing on the same track in the same stadium as the high school state meet.

“It is a big difference,” said Farmer. “It was weird. It was almost surreal. You are there for a state meet and then you are there running against the actual college itself.”

For his final cross collegiate country race, the NAIA National Championship at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington, Farmer and the Bears finished a team-best seventh over the four year span of competing in the national meet. Farmer also had his best individual finish at the national meet, crossing the line 10th in 25:10.1.

That mark made Farmer an NAIA All-American for the second straight year, capping a season where he was the Bears’ top finisher in every 8K race he ran.

Unknowingly, the NAIA Indoor Championships would be Farmer’s final meet of the school year, since all spring sports were cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was once again contested at Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex in Brookings, South Dakota. There Farmer ran for seventh in the mile preliminary race in 4:17.17, before shaving off nearly five seconds to take fourth in the final in 4:12.29 and secure his fourth career All-American honor.

HUNTER HOOVER — HIGH SCHOOL

At Waverly High School, Hunter Hoover led the way for the Tiger distance runners throughout his four-year career. He had two appearances at the state outdoor track and field meet in the 3,200-meter run during his junior and senior years of 2016 and 2017.

As a senior, Hoover also made it to the state cross country meet after coming close in previous seasons. There he finished 99th overall in his Division II race in 17:06.6 to earn Academic All-Ohio. Hoover enjoyed being on the podium for the first time in his high school career by qualifying for the indoor state track and field meet and placing eighth in the Division II/III 1,600-meter run in 4:30.93 in the spring of 2017.

HUNTER HOOVER — COLLEGE

At Shawnee State, Hoover made an impact right away as a freshman. He has experienced running at the NAIA National Cross Country Championships three different times with teammate and fellow Pike Countian Seth Farmer.

As a freshman competing in the 2017 national race in Vancouver, Washington, Hoover was 266th in 27:45.9 for the 27th place Bears. His best placement for his freshman cross country season was 14th at the Arthur J. Sciubbia Cross Country Invitational, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was his very first race. Hoover also brought home 15th from the Mid-South Championships.

“I’ve been training hard. I felt like I was trying to get accustomed to college training at first,” said Hoover. “In my sophomore year, I finally adjusted. Now it is basically like going through the motions, but that it is what it takes.”

In his sophomore cross country season, Hoover improved to sixth in the Mid-South Championships and made a significant leap in the field in the NAIA National Championship, finishing 148th in 26:03.6 at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Bears placed 13th.

Capping Hoover’s sophomore track season, Farmer and Hoover doubled-up placements in the 1,500-meter run in the Mid-South Conference meet with Farmer winning (3:57.78) and Hoover claiming third (4:00.33).

Hoover followed that effort up by winning the 5,000-meter race at the Harrison Dillard Twilight at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea (Ohio) on May 10, 2019 in 14:44.8. That springboard saw Hoover go on to qualifying for the NAIA National Meet for the first time, joining Farmer in Alabama May 23-25, 2019.

Hoover ran for 15th place in the 5,000-meter preliminary in 16:52.09 to qualify for the final. He ran a much quicker race in the final, 15:30.31, but finished 16th.

“Track was definitely like, ‘I know what I have to do.’ I accomplished my goal of making it to the finals in the 5K,” said Hoover. “I was having some Achilles issues. I was just trying to finish because we were there. It is a good experience knowing what to expect in the future.”

In his junior cross country season, Hoover turned in his best performance of the season at the Jenna Strong Invitational (Wilmington), securing fourth (25:24.7) with Farmer winning (24:36.5) in between all of the Ohio State runners in the top 10. That same meet gave the Bears a gauge of where they would be in the conference meet.

“We are ranked 11th (nationally). I think we will be able to qualify (for the NAIA meet), said Hoover in an Oct. 12 interview. “It all comes down to our conference meet. At our (Oct. 11 — Jenna Strong Invitational) meet yesterday, we put six guys in front of the next closest guy in our conference. If we were going off today, we would make it. We are hoping it just plays out like that.”

It did indeed play out like Hoover hoped. The Bears won the Mid-South Conference championship, edging runner-up Campbellsville. Farmer won race individually (25:15), while Hoover was 11th (26:28.3). The Bears took 10 of the top 15 places.

Then it was back to Washington state for the SSU men’s cross country team on Nov. 22, 2019. Hoover made a huge leap individually, securing 63rd in 26:04. He was the third SSU runner across the line, following Farmer (10th) and Steven Adams (34th). The Bears achieved seventh place as a team.

“I think cross country and track really teach you to work hard and be disciplined,” said Hoover. “You wake up for a morning run that you don’t want to do. But you know that you have to do it to perform how you want to perform in races. The biggest thing is discipline, I would say.”

At the time of the interview, Hoover was contemplating taking a redshirt year, since he changed his major during the course of his college career, and will be in school an additional year. That will also provide him a longer time to run with his Waverly teammates who just signed this past year.

BEST MARKS

The U.S. Track and Cross Country Coaches Association website lists the best performances for college athletes competing in those two sports. Both Seth Farmer and Hunter Hoover have quite a resume.

For Farmer, the following are his bests: 400-meter (53.43); 800-meter (1:55.49); 1,000-meter (2:34.01); 1,500-meter (3:50.5); Mile (4:11.46); 3,000-meter (8:46.1); 5,000-meter (15:04.92); 5K (XC) (15:38.3); 8K (XC) (24:36.5); 4.97 Mile (XC) (25:17.1).

For Hoover, it lists the following: 800-meter, (2:06.77); 1,000-meter (2:43.79); 1,500-meter (4:00.33); Mile (4:24.8); 3,000-meter (8:59.5); 5,000-meter (14:44.8); 10,000-meter (32:36.16); 5K (XC) (16:05.4); 8K (XC) (25:24.7); 4.97 Mile (XC) (26:27).

COLLEGE RUNNING EXPERIENCES

There are no regrets when it comes to choosing a small college close to home for Seth Farmer and Hunter Hoover.

“When you think of Shawnee, you don’t think about going to states like Oregon,” said Hoover. “Shawnee is outstanding with (Head Coach Eric) Putnam and (Assistant Coach) John (Williams). If Seth and I hadn’t gone to Shawnee, we wouldn’t even be able to see some of these places. It has been a blessing to see all of these places and have these experiences.”

Farmer agreed, saying, “Being part of a college team, you travel a lot. I’ve been to so many different states. Obviously I love Ohio, but it has just been amazing and awesome to see all of these places.

“If anybody ever gets the chance to be on a college team, I would definitely encourage it. You don’t ever get that experience again and have the opportunity to travel.”

Making the trips to the national meets and being in that atmosphere has been an outstanding experience for both.

“We went to Vancouver, Washington, for cross country nationals. Vancouver is an amazing place. It is so beautiful there,” said Farmer. “Then we were in Brookings, South Dakota, for indoor nationals. There was five feet of snow every where. It was insane to see all of the snow.”

Farmer hopes that his successes will help Shawnee State University continue to grow.

“The food is free, the travel is free, and the hotels are free. A lot of money is spent on me. I’m really thankful that Shawnee has given me the opportunity to let me compete and be a part of all of this,” said Farmer. “I hope my accomplishments can help them pay for all of costs. I think that is the return that the university gets. Running and being as good as I can possibly be is my gift in return for what Shawnee has done for me.”

His successes have also led to other runners joining the ranks at Shawnee, particularly some of the Pike County runners.

“It helps with recruiting. I think Aidan (Judd) will be a huge add-on to the team,” said Farmer. “(Hunter) Hoover will be a good leader for them. It will be nice to leave it off on a good note.”

Farmer was able to get many of his classes completed during his first four years at school for his business management major, leaving this past year as one with a lighter load.

Farmer is using his SSU running experience to springboard into the next phase of the sport.

“I want to end my last year with a good strong finish and go into the amateurs or the pros,” he said. “I’m not good enough to run with the pros yet. I would like to eventually get the right, proper training to lead me up to that level.”

Trying out for the Olympics is also a possibility in the future.

“You have to run certain standards. Then if you hit the standards, you can run at the trials. If you run good enough in the trials, you can move on,” said Farmer. “I’m a little ways away from the time standards they have. With the right work and the right coaching, and resources, I could hit that. We’ll see what happens.”

He has been able to keep his mileage lower than some runners, which has helped him prevent injuries.

“The training hasn’t changed that much for me through the years. Each cross season, I up my mileage a little more. In cross, I’m running 65 to 75 miles a week depending on race weekends,” said Farmer.

“In track, it is not more than 60 miles a week. It is not a whole lot honestly. You will probably see a lot more miles with other athletes, like 80 to 90 miles a week. The 60 to 70 miles a week seems to be working out well for me. The others are putting in more work. Sometimes more mileage isn’t the best option.”

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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