ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A cross-country team can’t lose the most dominant 1-2 punch in program history and expect to be as strong as it was the year before. But Hillsboro High School coach Stuart Holmes is far from forlorn about the upcoming campaign.
Gone from this year’s squad are Daniel and Aaron Yoder, who qualified for the state cross-country meet all four years, and led HHS to one fifth-place and three second-place finishes in Class 3A.
The Yoder-led Trojans also won four straight Mid Central Activities Association titles. As seniors, the twins combined to finish among the top three runners 11 times in nine races and won four.
That said, Holmes’ cupboard is hardly bare in 2004.
“I think the boys’ team may surprise some people this year,” said Holmes, who is in his second year at HHS. “Obviously, with losing Aaron and Daniel Yoder to graduation, we won’t expect to be nearly as strong.
“However, the guys still have six returning lettermen in Kody Borg, Westie (Karl) Magnuson, Daniel Bookless, Ric Johnson, Sean Leihy and Nate Holmes.
“If all the guys work hard and improve, we could challenge for a fifth straight league title as well as being a top-three team at regionals, which would qualify us for state again.”
Holmes said it was too early to speculate how much his returners might have improved from last season.
Heading the list of letter-winners is senior Kody Borg, who finished 23rd at state with a near season-best time of 17 minutes 27.78 seconds on a hilly 5-kilometer course at Wamego. His best time for the season was 17:22 at Berean Academy, a much flatter course.
Just behind him was Magnuson, a senior. He finished 33rd at Wamego in 17.44.05, which was his fastest time of the season.
In most cases, those two upper classmen were followed by a pair of promising freshmen, who now return with a year’s experience under their belts.
Sean Leihy placed 62nd in his first state appearance with a time of 18.25.79. His best time for the year also came at Berean, where he crossed the finish line in 17:50.
Classmate Holmes placed 71st at state in 18:50.64. His season-best time was 18:07 at Berean.
Johnson, as a sophomore, placed 74th at state in 18:55.99-his best varsity time of the year. He posted a time of 18:23 in the junior varsity race at Berean.
Bookless ran mostly junior varsity races in 2003, posting a season’s best time of 19:13 in the sophomore race at Hesston, where he finished ninth in the field.
One of the most impressive things about this year’s team is its depth. A roster of 16 boys heightens the competition for starting positions on the team, according to Holmes.
“I’ve been impressed with the work ethic of a number of our guys, and veteran runners like Robert Jost and Zach Magnuson, along with newcomers Clint Schneider and Cody McMillen, may challenge for varsity spots before the year is over,” he said.
Jost, a junior, ran a season’s best 20:16 in a junior-varsity race, while Zach Magnuson ran a personal best of 24:01 as a freshman.
Clint Schneider is a junior and Cody McMillen is a freshman.
The other newcomers this season are sophomores Zach Luthi and Jon Janzen and freshmen Tyrel Blecha, Alex Jost, Lance Kliewer and Gavin Serene.
For the girls, sophomore Elissa Richert and junior Jacque Fisher return as the only letter-winners on a six-member squad.
Richert ran a season-best time of 14:32 on the 2-mile course for girls, while Fisher’s fastest time was 15:07.
“The girls’ team will once again be young and inexperienced with only two letter-winners,” Holmes said. “After not having any girls participating in cross country two years ago, Elissa and Jacque will be our ‘experienced runners’-after only one year of experience in cross country.”
Holmes is looking to four newcomers-junior Greta Kliewer and sophomores Hannah Marsh, Megan McCarty and Megan Peachey-to fill the remaining four positions for a full team.
Marsh and Peachey have proven their raw speed by running well in the sprints for the track team, but it remains to be seen how they’ll adjust to a 2-mile race.
“With so much inexperience, it is hard to say how we will do as a team, but all the girls’ attitudes have been great, and we will look to improve as the season progresses,” Holmes said.
The Trojans’ schedule is much the same this year, with the first meet planned for Thursday (Sept. 2) at the Lindsborg golf course.
A highlight of the year will be the MCAA league meet, which Hillsboro will host at Marion Reservoir Oct. 14.
“It’ll be good to host a meet here, and it will be good to have a course where you have a little bit of a home-course advantage that we’ve run on a couple of times during the year,” Holmes said.
The Trojans’ chances of finishing well on their home course will depend to a large degree on their determination to improve, he said.
“Overall, the athletes have been accepting the challenge to run the kind of workouts that it takes to run cross country, and their attitudes have been good.”