Avon and Plainfield high schools took runners to last season’s cross country state finals and each has the firepower to reach the state’s biggest stage once again. Several other county schools will be chasing the Orioles and Quakers and could have the talent to keep up stride for stride with the pair.
The Orioles dominated the county cross country scene last season with wins at the Plainfield relays, and second consecutive county, sectional and regional championships to show for their efforts.
Avon made a trip to the state finals for a second straight season and placed 11th, two spots better than the year before.
Expectations are high this season for the Orioles, despite losing six seniors from last year’s team.
One of the reasons for that is the quality of depth that Avon returns, including Malyka Abramson and Courtney Kerr.
Abramson set the school’s 5K record last season, breaking Lorna Whaley’s mark (18:18) with a time of 17:51. Both Abramson and Kerr made the all-Hoosier Crosssroads Conference, all-county, all-sectional, all-regional and all-semistate teams.
“Malyka and Courtney are very hard workers who buy into our training and they both set a great example for their teammates in much the same way that past leaders such as Jesse McNealy, Taylor Smith, Victoria Collins and Megan Price have done,” Avon coach Brad Rosebrock said.
Adding great depth and quality running to the rest of the varsity lineup are returners Kelsie Mothersead and Lauren Heeger. Junior Avery Lane and Alissa Lustgarten and sophomore Takayla Carlton also look to be in the varsity lineup.
Heeger and Kerr are the Orioles’ team captains this season. Seniors Maggi Paxton and Caroline Rodgers along junior Summer Jenkins are taking on other leadership roles within the squad.
Rosebrock said he has six girls running at a very high level right now, but has a bit of a gap between them and the seventh varsity spot.
Senior Fiona Kelly looks to reestablish herself in the varsity lineup. Sophomores Carlton, Amanda Grothen and Emily Stamper, along with freshmen Kate Bernicke and Taylor Nicholson, will all be battling for varsity time this year.
To earn a coveted spot, many of the girls have been working very hard to improve during the offseason.
“Consistency of training and higher levels of training are the main ways that our girls and team will improve from last season,” Rosebrock said. “We have had a core group of girls that have consistently shown up this summer and put in the effort with positive attitudes and we’re expecting to see that work pay off throughout the season.”
Residing in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference will toughen the Orioles throughout the season as four of the HCC teams are ranked in the top 10 in the preseason poll.
Avon also has set goals to defend its county, sectional and regional championships along with returning to the state finals and improving to a top five finish.
We had some very good runners and leaders graduate last year, however we return a strong and experienced group, including a large group of juniors who have helped set the tone for our team since they were freshmen.
“Those accomplishments are contingent on continued improvement and progress through our training,” Rosebrock said.
Like their boys’ team, the Quakers graduated a talented class of seniors, leaving some holes to fill.
However, Plainfield does bring back some firepower. Junior Samantha Woodford returns from a terrific track season and hopes to improve on her cross country all-state performance from a year ago.
Woodford set the school’s 5K record last season in a time of 18:46 and finished 23rd at the state finals.
“Sam is doing great,” Plainfield coach Wes Woodson said. “She just needs to have a solid August and September of training to be sharp for the big races.”
Seniors Mady Haden, Sydney Simpson and Anne Krietenstein will be looked upon to fill the leadership roles for the Quakers.
“We will lean on them… they are seniors and need to step up for us,” Woodson said.
Also returning for Plainfield is Marina Pfeil, an all-conference selection from last season.
Woodson said the Quakers would like to win the Mid-State Conference and advance back to the semistate.
Those are no easy tasks as Franklin will be a tough conference foe and the postseason road is always difficult.
Outside of the top five runners, it’s a bit of a mystery to Woodson as to who the other varsity runners will be and said at this time “it would just be a guess” as to who will fill in those slots.
As for the team’s training, Plainfield is right on schedule, but Woodson would like to get better in some areas.
“We have been building up our minutes since the first week of June… and have had a solid nine weeks so far,” he said. “We need to improve on our daily runs to make them more consistent from day to day. Not so up and down. They are learning, but it just takes time.”
For the first time in several seasons, Cascade will be able to field a full varsity cross country team. Currently, the Cadets’ roster has five girls with the possibility of a sixth later in the year.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Cascade coach Steve Harris said.
The sixth member, Megan Frederick, has been around for all four years of her prep career, but may miss the season as she has mononucleosis.
“She’s not too happy and may miss most, if not all, of the season,” Harris said. “She has not been in school, but has stopped by practice a couple of times to lend her support to the other girls.”
Junior Hadley Whicker begins her third season with the Cadets and is the elder classman to the rest of the squad.
Sophomores Tarah Thornburg and Hayden Stinnett along with freshmen Chloe Whicker and Laura Batts make up the remainder of Cascade’s team.
Harris said Hadley “has passed down the workload” to her sister Chloe and that has made the transition a bit easier for the freshman as she knew what to expect.
Chloe was the top runner in eighth-grade for Cascade last season and along with Batts, make up the future of the Cadets’ program.
Stinnett came out for the team at the beginning of the season, but has been running throughout the summer on her own.
“They’ve made the most of their summer and show a lot of promise,” Harris said.
Harris said the county is tough and so is the West Central Conference.
“With county, I wish we could break it down into small county schools and large county schools,” he said with a laugh. “Realistically, we’d like to be in that fourth spot for county and there are a couple of good teams in the conference and we just really don’t know where we’re at yet, so it will be hard to tell how we’ll finish.”
Brownsburg returns a bulk of its varsity lineup from last season but doesn’t have a single senior on its roster this season. Last year, the Bulldogs finished second at county and advanced into the regional round of the postseason.
The future looks bright for the Bulldogs and first-year coach Craig Beckner.
“We have an extremely young group this year with no seniors, and several new freshmen and first time runners,” he said. “We’re not looking at this as a rebuilding year as we have a really solid group back from last season that are showing great improvements over the last several months. Many of our returners saw time at in the varsity lineup so they have a decent amount of experience that will be beneficial going into this season.”
Juniors Julia Popenfoose and Cassidy Brown, along with sophomores Allison Hering and Mackenzie Vondersaar have made significant strides over the past year and look to anchor this Bulldog’s team.
“Those four girls showed up this summer with a huge amount of enthusiasm to take a step to the next level,” Beckner said. “Julia and Cassidy stepped up their training quite a bit and responded really well to it. They have set some pretty high individual goals and based on what we’ve seen so far they’re on track to put down some very impressive results. Allison and Mackenzie struggled with some injuries last season, but really started to look sharp during track and have made great strides over the summer as well. If these four girls can stay healthy, I’m confident they all have a big breakout season ahead of them and we’ll have a very impressive group up front.”
Sophomores Alli Kent, Brooke U’Ren, and Heidi Mitchener will likely make up the rest of Brownsburg’s squad.
“Most of those girls saw time in the varsity lineup last year, so while they are pretty young they also have some good experience to work from heading into this season,” Beckner said.
The Bulldogs also add some depth and depending upon their improvements, or an unexpected injury, over the course of the season, could work into the varsity lineup.
“We have a real solid group of freshmen and several girls who just picked up running for the first time this summer that have lots of potential,” Beckner said. “Rachel Graham, Grace Esterline, Brianna Channon and Olivia Zoog are just a few of the freshmen that have shown great improvement. Alex Smock switched over from being a sprinter to distance running and has been very impressive and will definitely be a big part of our success.”
While it is Beckner’s first season as head coach, he is familiar with the girls.
“I’ve known and even coached most of these girls since they were in the sixth grade,” he said. “I’m most impressed with the quality of girls we have on this team. They’ve been awesome kids as long as I’ve known them and I’m real excited to get the chance to work with them every day.”
Danville advanced out of sectionals last season and into regional action and the Warriors hope to use that experience to its advantage.
The Warriors lost top runner Megan Newcomer, holder of the school’s 5K record, but returns others from the varsity lineup.
“The girls hopefully will take their regional experience and build on it by practicing with a purpose each day and earning improvement,” Danville coach Pat McKenzie said.
Junior Melanie Foreman and sophomore Delaney Graham both return and McKenzie will rely on both to help lead the Warriors and thinks “both are excellent individuals and will provide quality leadership.”
“Melanie seems to be prepared to have a solid season,” he said. “Delaney has experienced some injuries this summer, but once she is healthy, she will likely be a major contributor for us.”
After Foreman and Graham, McKenzie is unsure of who on his young squad will step up into varsity positions.
“Our team is very young and inexperienced, so each meet is going to be a tremendous learning experience for most of the girls,” he said. “They are individuals who possess a great deal of character, so I am confident they will learn a great deal and perform to the best of their abilities.”
One good thing about losing a large group of seniors like Tri-West did two years ago was that runners with little experience develop earlier than most. The Bruins graduated just two seniors last year and the returning girls have developed by trial under fire.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword I think,” Tri-West coach Brian Powers said. “First off, you get runners gaining experience they may not have gotten in the past due to competition. But, you may also throw some runners into a meet they aren’t ready for, so you have to take your lumps a little bit.”
Carrie Chappell finished last season as the Sagamore Conference runner-up and advanced to the Ben Davis regional as an individual. Powers said he expects her to pick up where she left off.
“Carrie is really excited about this year and I know that she will have a solid year,” Powers said. “She has been working so hard this summer after a disappointing end to the track season, mainly because of an injury. She has very lofty goals and she has the talent and work ethic to reach those goals.”
Along with Erin Boles, the pair are expected to lead the Bruins this season.
With such a young team, Powers’ goals are pretty simple and will let the season unfold as it may.
“We will just have to focus on how each person does individually,” Powers said. “If each person can improve, we will look at that as a successful season.”
One up and coming runner that will gain much experience from a smaller Bruins squad will be freshman Molly Henley, who set several middle school records.
“This will really help her in the future,” Powers said of Henley’s likely varsity time this season.
The challenge of a smaller team, the lack of depth and inexperience are all factors the Bruins will have to overcome thisyearn, but Powers believes they are up to the task.
“It is going to be really tough for us to make up the loss of the seniors the past couple of years,” he said. “However, we know we have a good group of girls and they will step up. It will really test the girls and their resolve.”
In its third year in program history, the Bethesda Patriots are making strides with their cross country team.
The Patriots retained each of their runners from last year, juniors Bethany Faubion and Kelsey Boling along with sophomore Hannah Joiner. That’s a good start, but coach Ben Biddle would like more girls to take an interest in the sport and he will soon start recruiting in the hallways.
However, fewer runners has its benefits.
“With a smaller team we can focus on each individual,” he said. “It is easier to track workouts for each athlete. I feel we have better camaraderie. Long, easy runs require all three girls to push each other and gives them an opportunity to build relationships.”
Getting in running during the offseason is a necessity for any cross country squad, but maybe even more so for the Patriots as they are trying to build a program.
“Offseason work is critical,” Biddle said. “The athlete who wants to win races will accumulate the miles through the summer. With only three weeks of official practices before meets begin, there is not enough time for an athlete to get into competitive shape.”
All three girls start their second seasons as cross country runners and Biddle has specific goals for each of them.
“I expect each of the girls to improve their overall times throughout the entire year,” he said. “The two big races we focus on are the BCS Homecoming Invitational and sectionals. At homecoming, I’d like to see each girl run a home course, personal best time. And at sectionals each girl should improve their finish position and time from last year.”