It's always a great accomplishment when an individual runner qualifies for a state cross country or track meet for the first time.
Four trips to the state championships in cross country in four years, and a fifth state qualification in track? It's clear New London's Carson Coey is a special runner and of a different breed.
The Northern Ohio native, who posted two top-40 finishes at the OHSAA Division III Championships in his four seasons of running at that level, adds to a terrific class that is chalk-full of past production and future promise.
"It really means a lot to me," Coey said of the opportunity to run at the collegiate level. "I'm very lucky and thank God for the fact that I get to do this for four more years. Not a lot of people get to obtain the opportunity that I have right now, so I'm just really thankful for that."
Much like Shawnee State's cross country and track programs, Coey and the New London cross country and track units have done more than their fair share of stout work.
In 2016, Coey immediately put his name on the map -- placing an outstanding sixth at the Division III Northwest District Championships in Gailon by running a strong 16:56 -- and following that performance up with a 23rd place finish at the Division III, Region 10 Championship Meet in Tiffin to advance to the state tournament in his first season as a high schooler. He'd ultimately finish 81st in his first OHSAA Division III State Meet, running a 17:11 while leading New London to a D-III Northwest District Championship, a D-III, Region 10 Runner-Up finish and a 14th place showing as a unit at the state level.
Making a further statement as one of the best runners in Ohio regardless of class, Coey stepped up significantly in his sophomore season, again becoming the anchor runner for New London as evidenced by his blistering 16:38 place at the D-III Northwest District Championships as a sophomore, leading to a third place finish, and a stout performance at the D-III, Region 10 Meet, where Coey finished fifth by running a 16:46.
His anchor performances at those stages led to a second consecutive D-III Northwest District Championship and D-III, Region 10 Runner-Up finish for New London as a team, while an outstanding 16:47 at the Division III State Championships allowed Coey to lead New London to a seventh place finish at the state level as Coey finished 35th overall to lead the scoring.
He'd then match that third place district finish as a junior (16:44) while leading New London to yet another district crown, finished 22nd (16:54) at the D-III, Region 10 Meet to aid New London in its successful quest for a regional championship, and finished an outstanding 26th at the Division III State Championships (17:13) to lead the Wildcats to a seventh place finish once again.
As a senior, Coey capped off his four-year cross country career with another storybook season, finishing fifth as one of four New London runners to finish inside the top-five overall at the Division III Northwest District Championships leading to the Wildcats winning their fourth consecutive D-III District Championship.
With a time of 16:58 at the D-III, Region 10 Championships, Coey finished 27th and allowed New London to collect its second consecutive D-III Regional Championship, which led to Coey making his fourth consecutive appearance at the Division III State Championship. There, Coey ran a 17:39 to place 96th overall, and in doing so, helped the Wildcats collect their third straight seventh-place showing at the D-III State Championship.
In participating at the Division III State Championship during all four seasons of his high school career, Coey became the first individual from New London to ever accomplish such a feat. He finished his career inside the top-six of his district, top-30 of his region, and top-100 in the State of Ohio in every single season of competition at the high school level in doing so.
"It really does mean a lot," Coey said. "It feels really good to know what kind of staple that I have put on New London's history. I could not have done that without the awesome support of my teammates and the support of New London as a whole. The whole community had a huge part in the success of our cross country team because of the support that would be sent our way."
Coey, however, was also successful on the track for New London. In three seasons of competition for the Wildcats' track and field program, Coey was a part of 13 victories between various individual and relay events, with 11 of those victories coming as a member of New London's 4-by-400 and 4-by-800 meter relay units as he teamed with Mitchell Joppeck, Curtis Joppeck, Austin Reed, and Jaden Keys to form the Wildcats' standout relay units. Coey, along with Reed and the Joppeck brothers, led the 4-by-800 unit to a Division III Northwest District Championship (8:32.6), a fourth-place finish at the OHSAA Division III, Region 10 level (8:11.2), and a 10th place showing at the Division III State Championships (8:14.65).
"It was so fun," Coey said of competing alongside his teammates. "I was so fortunate to be in the class that I was a part of. During our freshman year, we had six freshmen in the top-eight for cross country, and we all started running in seventh grade so I ran with those guys for six years total. We were like a family. Pair that with the great coaching from our coaches, Tyler Cawrse and Keith Landis, and I couldn't have asked for a better school for my high school career."
With the success that Coey has had, it was clear that the senior wanted a program that valued running and a family atmosphere in the same manner that New London did.
Enter Shawnee State. Head coach Eric Putnam has led the Bears' women's cross country program to 10 consecutive Mid-South Conference Championships in cross country and led the men to nine MSC Championships in 10 seasons. This, in turn, has led to Shawnee State finishing inside the NAIA National Top-15 eight times since the 2009 season on the men's side, and four times since 2013 on the women's side.
"It was great getting to know him and his staff," Coey said. "They are pretty down-to-earth. I felt comfortable when starting conversations as a result. The way (Eric Putnam) seemed to me was that he was going to push me to be my best, and that I was an important part of the plan that he has for the upcoming season. I'm sure that all the other freshmen feel the same way as well."
In the classroom, Coey's continued to challenge and push himself throughout. At New London, Coey was in the school's band and choir and served as New London's Class President. He plans to double major in business management and plastics engineering -- with the goal of learning qualities that will be critical for his primary long-term goals heading into the future.
"I really hope that academically, I will come out with a double major so I can own my own business like I have always dreamed of," Coey said. "Athletically, I hope to become a national champion and hope to continue the tradition of excellence that I have been told that this team has been upholding for so long."
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club or for sponsorship of specific SSU players or events, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club and https://givetossu.com/sponsorthebears.