By David Fong
and Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — It’s a little ironic that the Troy girls cross country team’s plan for the season was hatched at a place called Lake Hope — because if everything goes like it is supposed to, the Trojans will be relying a lot more on talent and a lot less on hope to make it to their ultimate goal.
“Every year, we like to go some place secluded and have the girls write down their expectations and goals for the season,” Troy girls cross country coach Kevin Alexander said. “We go some place where we can run, we can talk about running and we can bond as a team.
“This year, they all said their goal is to make it to state as a team. That was sort of my goal and my expectation for this group, but I wasn’t going to tell them that — they needed to decide that for themselves. They want to go to state. That’s their goal.”
And Alexander certainly believes the pieces are in place to do just that. Troy returns its top five runners from a team that missed going to state by 11 points — a minuscule amount in cross country — at last year’s Division I regional meet.
“The talent is there,” Alexander said. “There’s no denying it. In the 15 years I’ve been coaching cross country, I’ve only had one other group this talented, and that was when I was at Milton-Union. That’s not a knock on the other teams I’ve had — but based on the times we have coming back, this is the most talented team we’ve had here. No one has every won the Kentucky Derby riding a mule. We’ve got the talent. For us, it’s a matter of staying healthy and not getting injured or sick.”
Leading the way for the Trojans is a talented trio of sophomores who, by the end of last season, were the Trojans top three runners. Morgan Gigandet, Emma Shigley and Megan Myers all return for the Trojans. Gigandet and Shigley both qualified for the state cross country meet last fall, while Gigandet also was a state placer in the 3,200 at the state track and field meet in the spring.
“The experience Morgan and Emma gained last year qualifying for and racing at the state meet should be of tremendous benefit not only for themselves, but for the rest of the team as well,” Alexander said. “Getting a taste of competing at the state level seems to have energized those two, as well as the rest of the squad.”
In addition to Myers, Troy’s fourth and fifth runners from last season — seniors Rachel Davidson and Abby Pence — also return. Alexander said senior Haley Huelsman also has made tremendous strides since last season.
“Megan Myers has increased her training volume since this point last season and the experience Rachel Davidson, Abby Pence and Haley Huelsman bring in terms of training and racing at a high level are invaluable.”
In addition to those six, Alexander said his team has depth unlike any he’s ever had at Troy and expects his top line-up could see frequent frequent changes throughout the season with a number of runners nipping at the heels of the top six. Seniors Morgan Cockerham, Katie Fetter, Mariana Huerta, Anya North and Megan Sweeney; juniors Alex Merle, Morgan Peltier, Casssey Roache and Lauryn Rutan; along with sophomore Alyse Holter, all are returning letterwinners.
“There is a large group of young ladies currently right behind the other names mentioned that will also compete in varsity races through the season, depending on the meet and situation,” Alexander said.
And if all goes according to plan, that combination of depth and talent could be enough to earn the Trojans a trip to state — something no girls cross country team has ever done in school history.
“We’re excited for the season,” Alexander said. “The girls are excited. We are ready. We want to get this started. We know what our goal is and that’s where we want to be at the end of the season.”
They’ll rely on more than just hope to get there.
Tippecanoe’s girls finished ninth at the Division II state meet last season, the year after they finished fifth as a team. After the graduation of their top two runners in Hailey Brumfield and Brinna Price, the Red Devils are looking to shake things up — but with their returning talent, the results should still be there.
Leading the way is returner Abbi Halsey, who struggled through health issues last season but has recovered and is already running 19:24 at a recent road race. Also back are sophomore Laura Fink and freshmen Katie Taylor, Kaili Titley and Stephanie Fink — and with four girls under 20 minutes right now, the Devils should be solid once again.
“We’re trying some new things with the girls this year,” Tippecanoe coach Byron Kimmel said. “We lose our No. 1 and 2 but have eight girls back that are pretty solid. All told, boys and girls, we have 60 kids in the high school program and 68 in the junior high. For a school our size, that’s massive. The girls have a chance to continue to reload this year.”
Milton-Union’s girls have been the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division’s runners-up the past three seasons. This year, they want to change that.
“We’ve been the runner-up the last three years, and we definitely want to move up a spot,” Milton-Union coach Michael Meredith said. “Hopefully we’ve got the talent to win the girls again. We also want to get out of our district and make the regional as a team — we’ve got to start with that as the goal. We’ve got a good team. We’ve got to develop some frontrunners.”
The Bulldogs return a lot of runners, too. Seniors Katie Litton and Haly Bohse are back, as are juniors Kira Rohr, Liz Renner and Lauren Meredith, who did not run last season. Sophomore Kiley Jacobe also returns after a solid freshman year, and the Bulldogs welcome a large group of freshman runners.
Milton-Union will host the 45th annul Bob Schul Invitational Saturday, with more than 2,000 runners representing 60 schools.
* Miami East
Miami East was 76-10 a year ago and won the Cross County Conference title.
While East lost Abby Hawkins to graduation, returning letterwinners include senior Sami Sands, juniors Marie Ewing and Lorenza Savini and sophomores Meredith Richters and Lindsey Yingst.
“The girls team enjoyed a high successful season,” coach Alan Russell said. “We were league champions, district runners-up and narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet. We lost one senior, who in many ways is an an irreplaceable talent and leader on our team.
“However, I believe overall we will be a stronger team this year than we were a year ago. The girls are working hard this summer and have the potential to continue enjoying much success in cross country.”
The expectations are high for Covington, as eight girls return from last year’s team. Combine that with some promising newcomers and the Buccaneers should have an outstanding season.
Leading the returning runners is Anna Dunn, who qualified individually for the state meet the last two years. Joining her at the front of the pack is Carly Shell, who holds the school record and was a state qualifier two years ago. Other returning runners include Danielle Alexander, Allison Babylon, Kelsey Dysinger, Tori Lyle, Meghan Parker, and Julianna Yingst.
Girls new to the team this year are Sarabeth Anderson, Allison Angle, Paige Boehringer, Emma Dammeyer, Lexie Long, Ashlyn Plessinger, Sarah Remley, Danielle Swabb, and Olivia VomBaur.
Returning letterwinners for the Indians are seniors Vivian Brauer and Rose Studebaker and sophomore Macy Flanary.
New to the team are senior Emmi Fisher, sophomore Tatum McBride and freshman Jayln Hunsbarger and Lexi Oburn.
“After not fielding a team the last few years, we will be led by sophomore Macy Flanary,” coach Tiffany McBride said. “Our girl’s conference is very strong this year. We are excited to compete as a Team with experience and some very talented athletes.”
* Troy Christian
TROY — Troy Christian will have just three girls on the team year, two seniors and one freshman.
Coach Jeff McDaniel said he expects freshman Sophie Pitsenbarger to be the team’s top runner this season.