Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 02 September 2008 15:03
With seven of his top nine runners returning from a year ago, Hillsboro coach Stuart Holmes has a good foundation for another successful boys’ cross-country team.
The girls’ team, meanwhile, returns three letter-winners and enough newcomers to be able to compete as a team this fall.
“The boys have qualified for state as a team in seven of the last eight years, and I know one of their goals is to qualify again and finish the season by running well at state,” Holmes said.
Key to reaching that goal will be for those returning runners to show enough improvement, as a group, to compensate for the loss of their standout No. 1 runner, Cody McMillen, who graduated this past spring.
With team scoring determined by the order of finish, the Trojans will miss McMillen’s consistent single-digit start toward a low collective score.
Setting the pace for Hillsboro this season will be senior Nicholas Mueller, who was the consistent No. 2 runner in 2007 and finished seventh in the league, and junior Nathan Vogel, who usually crossed in the No. 3 spot and was 18th at league.
The other returners are seniors Brandon McMillen, Matthew Klenda, Cody Blackketter and David Ratzloff, and juniors Jonathan King and Michael Christian.
McMillen, Klenda and Blackketter ran in most varsity races while Ratzloff, King and Christian competed on the junior varsity.
“The guys had one of the strongest JV teams in the area last year, so one key to the team’s success will be the ability of some of the guys from last year’s JV being able to move up and contribute at the varsity level,” Holmes said.
Joining that core group of returners are five newcomers to the program: senior Robby McClelland, junior Scott Brandt and freshmen Zach Carey, Nicholas Ediger and Bret Mueller.
Last fall, the Trojan boys finished as Mid-Central Activities Association runners-up to Sterling, who went on to win the Class 2A state title. Holmes expects the Black Bears to be strong again this year.
Hesston, Marion and Halstead rounded out the top five teams from the 2007 league race, and should be in the mix with Hillsboro for a high finish again this year.
The girls’ team, meanwhile, returns three senior letter-winners: Clara Ens, Jessica Elliott and Heidi Schroeder.
“They will form a good nucleus for hopefully an even more competitive season this year for the team,” Holmes said. “Heidi medaled at league last year in ninth place, and Jessica is the school record-holder in cross country for the girls’ 4-kilometer (18 minutes, 6 seconds).”
This will be the third season the girls distance will be at 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) instead of 2 miles.
Joining the veteran trio are three newcomers who would give the Trojans the minimum six runners needed to compete for a team score. The three are sophomore Taylor Nikkel and freshmen Brenna Blackketter and Samantha Ens.
“I’m looking forward to another great season,” Holmes said. “The group of athletes we have this year seems to be especially enthusiastic about running and being part of the team. We hope to channel the enthusiasm and good team chemistry into a positive experience both at practice as well as at meets.”
Holmes said he’s been pleased with the off-season effort of his athletes over the summer.
“Every year I continue to be impressed with the self-discipline of most of our runners as they make running a part of their daily routines basically all summer,” he said. “As a result, many have run between 150 and 350 miles this summer and start the season with a good base for training.
“One key factor now will be how much desire each individual runs with,” Holmes added. “To be successful, you must learn to push through the discomfort that is part of running 2.5 miles for the girls and the 3.1 miles the boys cover at meets.”
The Trojans will get their first taste of competition Saturday, Sept. 6, at the J.K. Gold Classic at Raft Golf Course near Augusta. The meet, organized by Wichita State University, generally attracts the large schools in the greater-Wichita area.
Races will begin at 8:30 a.m.