ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro’s cross country team started its season on a pace that might well take them to their lofty post-season aspirations.
The Trojans battled the heat, hills and XX other schools to win the Smoky Valley Invitational Meet in Lindsborg Thursday for the third straight season.
In this meet, runners were divided into two groups: freshmen and sophomores in one race, followed by juniors and seniors in the second race. Team scores were determined by adding a school’s top five places from the combined races.
Hillsboro distanced itself from the field with only 16 points on the strength of first- and third-place finishes in the junior-senior race by Aaron Yoder and Danny Yoder, respectively, and second-, third-, and seventh-place finishes by Kody Borg, Karl Magnuson and Daniel Bookless in the freshman-sophomore race.
The Trojans’ closest rival was Hesston with 35 points. Hutchinson Trinity finished third with 43.
“We were real happy with the day,” coach Brian Kennell said. “The guys all ran real well. Aaron, finishing first, was super-and it was a great time for him, too.”
Yoder, a junior, took the lead before the first-mile mark on the hilly golf course, then separated himself from the field to win in a time of 17:35-a full 40 seconds faster than his winning time a year ago in a freshman-sophomore race that was run in cooler temperatures.
Aside from winning the team title, Kennell said he was pleased by the times Yoder and his teammates posted. He had said improvement would be needed if the Trojans were going to contend for a state title.
Kennell got what he was looking for from most of his runners. Danny Yoder improved by 28 seconds (18:26) from 2001, and Borg by 52 seconds (20:13).
The two other scorers for Hillsboro were both running in their first race for HHS. Sophomore Magnuson finished in 20:54, and freshman Daniel Bookless ran a 21:28.
Other Trojan finishers in the junior-senior race were: Michael Bookless, 28th in 22:22, almost three minutes faster than in 2001; Tyler Stout, 30th in 22:44, an improvement of 56 seconds; and Michael Fisher, 42nd in 26:52, a whopping 7:08 faster than a year ago.
“We’ll need them to continue it throughout the season,” Kennell said of the improvements. “But for the first meet, I thought they were in a real good place.”
He credited their mental outlook as much as their physical training.
“The team attitude toward the meet was really good,” Kennell said. “The guys were focused and really did a nice job with their attitude for the day.”
Senior Nick Unruh, who was under the weather but ran anyway, still placed 24th in 21:56, but his time was about 40 seconds slower than last season.
Billy Winegarner, a senior who was running in his first race, placed 32nd in 23:16.
Other finishers for Hillsboro in the freshman-sophomore race: Sammy Espada, who placed 16th in 23:37 despite battling some cramps; and Robert Jost, 19th in 24:21.
Kennell said considering the heat, which hovered in the mid-90s, he was pleased with everyone’s performance.
“Times were probably a little slower than they might have been with cooler weather,” he said. “Placement-wise, I didn’t think it made much different, although we may have handled (the heat) better than some teams did just by the positive attitude the guys had.”
The Trojans will be back in action tomorrow (Thursday) at the Hesston Invitational. Races begin at 4 p.m.