Trojan thinclads on pace for strong finish

Coming off the best cross country season in school history, coach Brian Kennell believes his boys’ team has a chance to challenge for the upper echelon once again.

Last season, the Trojan boys won their first MCAA title and placed second in both regional and state competition.

“The way it looks now, I’m hoping to compete at about the same level,” said Kennell, who is in his fifth year at the helm. “I think it’s too early to say they’ll be as good, but I hope they can compete at the same level we did last year.”

Gone from that 2000 squad are graduated seniors Garrett Call, the Trojans’ top runner who overcame a mid-season slump to place 11th overall at state, Adam Jilka, who finished 66th overall, and Andy Unger, who placed 80th.

“They will be big losses, particularly in the leadership they provided,” Kennell said. “But I think we have the makeup on this year’s team to step into those shoes and do well, especially by the end of the season.”

Kennell’s optimism is rooted in his returnees.

Heading the pack are a couple of sophomore brothers, Aaron and Daniel Yoder. The pair placed 31st and 34th, respectively, at state last year as freshmen and are coming back stronger and more experienced in 2001.

In addition to their impressive contributions in cross country, the brothers were key contributors on the Trojans Class 3A state champion track team.

Daniel competed in the pole vault, but also ran in the 4×800 relay that placed fourth at state.

Aaron, meanwhile, became a dominant runner in the 1,600 meters, finishing third in state and setting a school record, and in the 3,200 meters, finishing 10th at state. He also was a member of the 4×800 team.

Both brothers also competed successfully in AAU meets this summer.

“Aaron is much stronger than last year and he’s put in a lot of mileage between track and the summer, too,” Kennell said. “Also, his experience and confidence with the sport has increased. He also attended a running camp this summer.

“I think that exposure, especially the track season, helped him a lot. He was able to compete against some of the guys he ran against last fall in cross country. I think that confidence and experience will result in a big improvement-and he looked good last year already.”

Also returning is senior Matt Unger, a four-year participant in the sport. Unger finished 45th overall at state.”

“He really finished strong last year and just missed winning a medal at regionals and state,” Kennell said. “We’re hoping for a real good season from him.”

Adding to the team’s depth are two upperclassmen who are returning after some time away from the sport.

Nick Unruh, a junior, competed in 1999, but not last season. Pete Richert, a senior, competed as a freshman, but went out for football his sophomore and junior seasons.

Richert in particular brings a proven track record-literally. This past spring, he was a strong 3,200-meter runner for the track team and qualified for state in the 1,600 meters.

“He met with a lot of success running distance in track and so we’re real excited that he’ll be able to continue that in cross country,” Kennell said. “His addition will be a big help. He wasn’t sure he was going to come out at the end of the year last year, but at some point over the summer he decided to come out. I was excited to see that.”

Kennell also highlighted two of his incoming freshman as possible contributors in their first season.

“Sammy Espada and Kody Borg are freshman who look real good and we are looking for a good season from them now and then into the future. They have potential to be real strong and help us.”

Beyond the running talent, the key factor for another strong season is team experience.

“Confidence is a big big part of it-to be able to start a race, run with the pack and feel comfortable doing that at the beginning of the race, knowing that you’ll have enough left at the end of the race to continue,” he said.

“Maturity and experience also helps you work through the pain,” he added. “When they’re new, pain can cause them to slow down. With experience, they’re able to work through that.”

The other factor that buoys Kennell’s outlook is that his team came to the preseason in good shape and ready to run.

“They came in the best shape that I’ve ever had a team come in from the summer,” he said. “So I’m real optimistic.

“It’s a great group of runners out,” he added. “They really have a team approach and spirit. And they are really are a lot of fun to work with.”

Kennell believes his team has a good shot at defending its MCAA title. He thinks Hesston and Smoky Valley will be strong this year, but that remains to be seen.

“It’s tough to know without knowing who has who coming out,” he said.

For the first time in a while, the Trojans will not be represented in the girls’ competition this season.

“It’s a concern in the sense that you’d like to have them out,” Kennell said. “Some of the girls who could have come out are busy with their senior year, and others are playing different sports.

“I do hope in the future that we’ll cycle through and there will be some runners coming through,” he added.

“If you get a few girls who like to run, then it can kind of build on itself. But if you don’t, you don’t. As long as girls are participating in something, that’s what’s important. But I would like to have them out for cross country.”

The Trojans boys face their first competition tomorrow at the Smoky Valley meet in Lindsborg. Races begin at 3:30 p.m.

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