Hillsboro cross-country coach Stuart Holmes finds himself in a unique position. For the first time in the history of the program, the Trojans have a defending state champion on the roster.
Sophomore Emily Sechrist joins senior Josh Richert as the Trojans’ two returning state qualifiers from 2011. But Sechrist’s victory in the Class 3A girls’ race at Lawrence last fall made her the first champion in school history.
With the title comes a unique opportunity: Can she repeat the accomplishment in 2012?
Sechrist bolstered her competitive credentials this spring by winning gold in the 3,200 meters and a bronze in the 1,600 at the state track meet. But the freshman didn’t win her first high school cross-country race until state.
Holmes believes Sechrist can repeat when Class 3A runners return to Lawrence this fall—but he isn’t assuming anything, given the unpredictable nature of the sport.
“After winning state last year, (Emily) has the potential to again be among the state’s top runners,” he said. “She is a dedicated athlete that trains consistently and strives to be the best she can be, so she’ll be very competitive again.”
Beyond individual performances, Holmes said the Trojan girls’ team will be a mix of experienced runners and cross-country newcomers.
On the experienced side, sophomore Karyn Leihy and junior Erin Wiebe join Sechrist as returning letter-winners.
Leihy actually broke the HHS girls’ record in her debut race last fall. Sechrist lowered the record when she made her debut the following week and eventually established it at 15 minutes 24 seconds when she finished second at regionals.
“Karyn medaled in a number of varsity races last year and seems determined to have another good season,” Holmes said. “Erin continues to run faster each year, so it will be good to have her experience as well.
Juniors Morganne Hamm and Karina Torres and freshman Mary Leihy are newcomers to the team.
“We’ll have to wait and see how competitive they will be in their first year,” Holmes said. “But with consistent training and their good attitudes, they will show great improvement throughout the season, which I hope they will find rewarding.”
The boys’ team, meanwhile, returns five letter-winners. Holmes believes the squad could be very competitive.
“Josh, who medaled with 17th place at state last year, enters his senior season determined to have another good season and should continue to be one of the area’s top competitors,” Holmes said.
Joining Richert as returning veterans are seniors Daniel Gray and Jordan Bezdek and juniors Avery Franz and J.D. Schmidt.
Holmes said the latter four have the potential to be competitive runners at the varsity level.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Hopefully, the guys are determined to continue their progress as cross-country runners and will be ready to race.”
Success as a team also will require that all five runners remain healthy.
“With only five guys out, each runner will be used in the team score,” Holmes said. “We won’t have the luxury of having six or seven strong runners from which to get five good places for our team score.”
Last year, the Trojan boys placed fourth as a team at the Central Kansas League meet; Richert led the way with a seventh-place finish. With two runners out with injuries, the Trojans girls did not qualify for a team score. Sechrist placed third individually.
Holmes, who is beginning his 10th year at the helm, said he likes what he’s seen from his team through preseason training.
“Practice has been going well with all the runners having a great attitude, so once again we are looking forward to another successful season,” he said. “Each year has its outstanding performances as well as a few challenges. But we’ll train smart and work hard to improve as the season goes along.”
Hillsboro won’t open its competitive schedule until Sept. 8, when the Trojans compete at Wamego. Races begin at 10 a.m.
“It should be another great season of training and racing together, and certainly we will be working to see that each runner has the opportunity to reach their goal and has a positive experience,” Holmes said.