By Josh Brown
TROY — For the Troy girls cross country team, Monday was an unveiling of sorts.
For Troy Christian’s Robert Ventura, it was a pleasant surprise.
The Trojan girls showed off a new look for the first time in four years at Monday’s Lost Creek Invitational — minus graduated seniors Morgan Gigandet, Emma Shigley and Megan Myers, who led the team the vast majority of their high school careers. But that new lineup still produced the same results with a first-place finish in the girls team standings, while the Eagles’ Ventura scored an individual victory in the boys race.
And while Troy’s girls are relatively inexperienced and young this season, Monday’s 3K win shows that there is still plenty of talent there despite the loss of Gigandet — a four-time state qualifier who won a state championship last year — Shigley and Myers.
“There’s only, like, four seniors, and that’s it,” said senior Katie Castaneda. “And how many juniors?”
“Like, six maybe?” said fellow senior Olivia Tyre, a three-time state qualifier herself. “And the rest are all freshmen and sophomores. But they look really strong.”
Proving that point was freshman Emma Kennett, who ran a time of 11:11.8 in her first varsity race, finishing second individually only to Springfield Shawnee’s Audrey DeSantis, who won in 11:08.9.
“I love it,” Kennett said about joining the Trojan varsity as a freshman. “I think everyone here, it’s like a family almost. We all have really close bonds with each other. It’s a lot different than junior high, and I like it.”
Following her were the Trojans’ two returners with the most varsity experience, Tyre and sophomore Dinah Gigandet. Tyre was third in 11:27 and Gigandet — who also competed at the state meet last season as a freshman — was fourth in 11:38.1.
Capping off the scoring for Troy was Castaneda in 13th (12:42.3) and sophomore Hannah Markeson in 14th (13:03.9). Troy won with 32 points, while Shawnee was second with 61.
“It’s exciting,” Tyre said of taking over a leadership role on the team. “I’m most excited to see everyone do so well, because our freshmen and sophomores have worked so hard this summer, and it’s really paying off for them already.”
“I just remember always looking up to the seniors. But now it’s weird that we’re the seniors,” Castaneda said. “It’s definitely different.”
“This year has been really exciting. It’s a new set of challenges that the coaching staff has to adapt to,” Troy girls coach Kevin Alexander said. “We’ve had so many consistent girls for so many years — they knew what to expect, and the coaching staff knew what to expect. This is a whole different atmosphere.
“Like I said, it’s a whole new set of challenges, and I think the kids are adapting well. They’re learning us, and we’re learning them. And this was just the first race of many. Hopefully they’ll get to experience some success, but it is a learning process for us all.”
And for the Trojans, the key will be how those four seniors — Tyre and Castaneda along with Grace Walling and the injured Azalia Ali — can guide the younger runners throughout the year.
“These girls have taken on a lot of responsibility,” Alexander said. “They’re so few in number relative to all the new kids. They have to do a lot — cross country is one of those sports where you can’t see every kid in practice, so they have to tell the other kids that this is how we do warmups or this and that. They’re really doing a great job. I commend all of the seniors, no matter their ability, on how they’re helping to teach the next generation coming up.”
Milton-Union’s girls finished third with 91 points. Rachel Thompson was 15th (13:09.1), Kyli Parsons was 17th (13:27.1), Brianna Collins was 19th (13:33.2), Micah Tracy was 22nd (13:43.4) and Maddie Stasiak was 23rd (13:43.7).
Miami East’s Kiley Davie was 12th individually (13:01.8) to lead the Vikings, while Troy Christian’s Rachel Plummer was 38th (14:55.9) to lead the Eagles.
And on the boys side, Troy Christian’s Ventura, a junior, held off a pack of three Springfield Shawnee runners to win individually in 9:40.2. The Braves ended up winning as a team with 41 points.
“It’s surprising, really,” he said of his win. “I’ve raced before and always come in fifth or 10th. It was a surprise to come out and get first.
“I didn’t feel too bad until we got up the second hill. It was nerve wracking. I thought they (Shawnee’s top three) were going to catch me on the second mile.”
For Ventura, it was a chance to represent the underdogs, as well as the first step towards his larger goals.
“It was nice to come out and represent for a sport (that doesn’t get the same recognition as others),” he said. “It was nice to show we could compete. I’m wanting to break the school record this year, which is 16:27, and I’m hoping to get out of the regional and to state.”
The Eagles were fourth as a team with 106 points. After Ventura, Nick Pratt was eighth (10:06.8), Alexander Benevento was 22nd (10:51.2), Nate Hunnicutt was 33rd (11:14.4) and Aiden Tkach was 42nd (11:43.3).
Troy’s boys finished second as a team, scoring 75 points.
The Trojans were led by a trio of top-10 finishers: Josh Lovitt in seventh (9:56.5), Austin Zonner in ninth (10:11.4) and Braden Coate in 10th (10:16.5). Will Schaefer was 23rd (10:56.2) and Keegan Potts was 26th (11:02.6).
“It feels really good,” Troy boys coach Phil Matthews said of the runner-up finish. “They ran really well, considering it’s late at night, it’s been hot all day, it’s the first race of the year. It kind of shows where they are fitness-wise, and it was a good learning experience to get ready for the rest of the season.
“The seniors looked good and helped pace the younger guys. They’re about where we expect them to be at the moment, and they’re only going to get better.”
Milton-Union was seventh with 139 points. Chris Miller was 14th (10:22), Eric Trittschuh was 15th (10:27.7), Tristin Persinger was 31st (11:10.8), Harrison Litton was 39th (11:30.4) and Josh Woodell was 40th (11:32.3).
Miami East was eighth with 214 points. Alex Hayes was 19th (10:37.6), Michael Bair was 41st (11:39.4), Garrett LeMaster was 59th (12:11.5), Adam Bensman was 66th (12:32) and Cameron DeWeese was 74th (12:45.3).
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.