CLASS AAA Boys Team Preview
Last year, Kentucky saw three different boys’ teams give us reason to believe they might earn a bid to the Nike Team National Championship, but in the end, all three came up empty-handed. The state championship was a race that saw St. Xavier and Trinity make attempts to hold off the Daviess County crew while both were in depleted states. The Daviess County group showed why you should never underestimate Tony Rowe and Co. and claimed yet another state title. This year, with graduation ravaging both Trinity and Daviess, will St. X take their turn alone on the stage when all is said and done?
The group from St. Xavier has to feel good after putting two runners in the top 5 at last year’s state meet and bringing them both back this year. It doesn’t help as much, though, since the entire top 5 from last year’s meet returns this season. The thing that looks to be making the difference with this group is the amount of experience that their team gained in the last 12 months. This group traveled during cross-country, indoor, and outdoor track to put themselves in more competitive situations and see what they were made of. They dealt with excitement and frustration at last spring’s track and field state championships, claiming first in the 3200 meter relay, in a state record time, but struggling through the rest of the day and ending up a distant 2nd to Male in the team standings. Cross-country frontrunners Jackson Carnes and Thomas Mann will look to pick up where they left off last season, but they will need Matt Hillenbrand and Ian McCaslin to use the experience they gained this year to help lead this team and overcome the loss of Geoffrey Spencer. Others looking to contribute should be Sam Beavin, Matt Morris, and Austin Carter. Last year, this group surprised many stepping up to take second at the state championships, but this year, it wouldn’t surprise many to see them take home the title.
The group from Apollo went virtually unnoticed last season even after taking runner-up honors in the fall of 2007. Justin House and company were just four points out of 7th, but with the strength of the teams up front, they were no match. Given that they lose just one from last year’s top seven, though, they sky rocket into the forefront with this year’s stable of talent. House had another brilliant year and made people wonder what he could be capable of in the next two years as he dropped several very fast times on the track this spring. His supporting cast is made up of names that few will know, but the team’s top five returners are rounded out by four seniors who have seen what a great team can do and could be very hungry heading into this season. Look for Evan Bridges to make the next step and join the group of individuals challenging for all-state. With little depth, the group will be very dependent on John Gleason, Jeff Rowe, and Clay Kuegel to supply enough fire power to hold off the late charging teams and secure a high finish for this group. Looking at times and accomplishments, this group may not have many, outside of House, but if they can bank on experience and a strong work ethic, they may just come up with a winning formula.
Butler is a team on a mission to say the least. Many still have the vision of their finish from the 3200 meter relay at the state finals in May and the elation that ensued, only to have it all taken away. This group will be hungry and with a strong group of returners, that could go a long way. David Bruce was the first freshman across the finish line at last year’s state cross country championships and will look to lead this year’s sophomore class across the line as well. If new addition Tretez Kinniard can repeat Bruce’s effort from last year’s meet, then this team may just be the one feeling on top of the world. Supporting cast members Darius Berry and Jon Sivado return and will look to bring a group together to carry the team as they have plenty of returning 17:30 talent from last year that might just translate into 17 or better talent this year. With just three seniors in this team’s top 10 returners, make sure you remember to watch out for them over the next few years as they try to become a staple on the stage at the cross country state championships.
Every coach has his or her own way of doing things and this team’s coach is no exception. He does everything he can to deflect attention and discussion about his program to try to keep his athletes focused on their goals and it has proven successful. Unfortunately for him, they are too good to be ignored this year, so Conner will have to be given its due. The 1-2 punch of Joey Brendel and Sean Vandermosten shocked many at last year’s state championships with Brendel placing fourth overall, after not even being considered a factor in the top 10 by most, and Vandermosten found himself in 15th place in the chute. This team has some work to do after losing two of their top seven to graduation, but they return five athletes from last year’s team which finished 8th overall. They tend to lay low for much of the season, but don’t forget about this team because they will almost assuredly be in the mix for a top 5 finish come season’s end.
Trinity seems to always have the bodies to put together a top team and this season is only slightly different than the rest. This season, the Shamrocks come in with a depleted group after last year’s graduating class and will be looking to hang on for a top 5 finish. Jake Wildenmann is still very much involved with this group as he will be the go-to-guy for this group if they have hopes of placing high. Dillon Raidt and Collin Medley will be the only other returners from last year’s third place group, so you can see why there are question marks. There are other names that are returning that would help this group out, but question marks abound as the team has been hit with a couple of athletes choosing not to run this year for different reasons. Looking at what the group is returning, though, there is reason to believe that their depth will give them enough to keep them in the top five at season’s end. The question is, can this team that always finds a way to develop great talent during the year, put it together and go home with a trophy?
It isn’t very common for the returning state champion team to fall outside of the top five, but it looks that way right now for Daviess County who will ask a great amount of their returning group and front runner Evan Ehrenheim if they are to remain among the top teams. Greenwood returns more than just Ryan Eaton this fall and is a legitimate contender if they can find a strong fourth and fifth. Stacey Eden and the Shelby County group will need big improvement from their 2-5 to break the top five, but they are talented enough to consider here. Rob Wahl and Quinn Lackey are back from a surprising Paul Dunbar group that will look to bring home another top ten finish. Meade County is starting to put some things together as well and with Sean Breeds leading the way, this group is well on the way to placing themselves firmly into the top ten teams this season.
Girls AAA Preview
The girls’ team title picture hasn’t been very clouded the past two years, but there is hope that it won’t be a ‘walk in the park’ for last year’s winner Assumption. There has been an impressive surge of teams some of the more populated parts of the state in the past year that has started to give us some hope for a battle for the title this year, but it will take something more than what we can see on paper at this point to change what almost seems imminent.
Assumption was 2nd in 2006 before winning back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008. Last year, they dropped four athletes in between places 8 and 14 to gain a huge lead and held on to win by 16 over a strong Sacred Heart squad. This year, though, they return without three of the seven that brought home the title and will look for several athletes to step up in a big way. Allison Riedling, Ashley El Rady, and Sara Davis had stellar track seasons and will look to lead this group coming into the fall. The hopes of this group may hinge on the continued development of several runners, possibly including: Caroline McCaslin, Olivia Harlow, Taylor Dadds, and Lindsay and Ellen Marko. There’s no reason to believe, though, that this group won’t come through as the past three years have shown that this team just keeps filling in the names on the trophies.
Sacred Heart was led last year by Emma and Emme and that was all that most knew about the team. Well, state champion Emma Brink is back to try to defend her title, while Emme McAtee has moved on to the University of Kentucky this fall. That means that many followers in Girls Class AAA will be looking to see who will step up and fill in the gaps if this team has hopes of a title this year. Sophomore Jacklyn Puopolo ran fourth for SHA at the state meet last year dipping a bit under the 20-minute barrier, while senior Logan Fry ran 20:16 on the soggy course to place 5th for the state runners-up. These two, along with sophomore Elise Grunesian and junior Catherine Allen, are the athletes who return and carry the hopes of a title with them this season, but there is another who showed during track season that she may also give this group a reason to aim for the title. Julia Means was a virtual unknown in the spring before stepping onto the track at the Mason-Dixon Games and claiming 5th in the 1500. After that, she stepped up to the 3200 meters and ended up placing 10th at the outdoor state meet. If she does infact choose to run cross-country with this group this season, it may end up being more special than the last two years.
Experience is a key for Eastern High School this year, as their hopes for a top three finish rely on three seniors, a sophomore, and a slew of others. Seniors Tori Mayfield, Anna Schriener, and Teal Wigginton were key in Eastern’s 5th place finish last year, with Mayfield’s 11th place finish overall leading the team. With the loss of Sarah Turi, they will bank on sophomore Kaitlynn Ramsey even more this year after her 19th place finish last year. The group of Schriener, Mayfield, and Ramsey showed that they have the poise to win as they joined with Turi to claim the state 4x800 meter relay title on the track this spring in convincing fashion. Each of the girls, along with Wigginton, qualified individually to compete at the state track and field finals as well, only adding to their list of accomplishments together. The group will be interesting to watch as they organize themselves this fall and seek out a solid fifth runner, but expect that coach Mike Horan keeps this girls prepared and ready to pounce when the time comes.
Dupont Manual is a consistent contender that requires attention every year and this year is no different. Last year’s 4th place team returns without standouts Cassie Martin and Elise Medley, but brings in a pair of freshmen standouts in Cassidy and Kristen Hale. Elizabeth Anderson will look to improve on her 16th place finish this year as she leads the team and Sarah Barker will need to play a much more prominent role with this group as well. With Anderson being the only senior in this group, it would surprise no one if this team was very strong the next three or four years with more experience and development being a key for this team. They will be racing the best often this year, so it will be interesting to see how they progress even this year as they aim to crack the top three as well.
Last fall, there was some debate as to which team had the best top three runners due to the consistency and strength shown by this team which returns the 4th and 5th place individuals from last year’s state meet. Megan Klein and Amanda Hancock of Paul Laurence Dunbar combined with graduate Melissa Hurd, to create one of the strongest 1-2-3 combinations in a while. Looking at the state meet results and seeing how much of a down race Hurd had, it makes you wonder what could have happened for this group. Gone now are Hurd and the team’s third runner at the state meet as well in Leslie Davis, but returning are all of the other five runners that competed in the mud and muck at last year’s state finals. This is definitely a team with the firepower up front to make a run at the top teams this year, but they will require more depth than they have shown so far to crack the top three.
Daviess County will be interesting to watch this year as they transition from have senior leaders in Elizabeth Miller and Madison Hale to count on, to being led by eighth grader Amelia Reynolds. Bowling Green may be the most dangerous team returning this year with a group that loses just one from last year’s 7th place finish and won’t lose another from that team until after next season. Dixie Heights is yet another young team that has returned all seven of their runners from last season’s state meet and will look to improve upon their 9th place finish. Notre Dame Academy was just behind Dixie Heights when the dust settled last year and they return with their entire top five from last year’s state meet intact, including 15th place finisher Elizabeth Brannen. Cooper rounds out the teams we are highlighting and after placing 11th last year, they return their top six athletes from last season’s team and will look to crack the top 10 this year.