Most of the runners who made The Daily Citizen’s 2011 All-Area Cross Country Team return this season, including the Runners of the Year, Dalton’s Bekah Houston and North Murray’s Isaac Pacheco.
But Houston and Pacheco probably wouldn’t mind having more company this year if they’re able to return to state.
While the area was not without talent on the trail a year ago, top-to-bottom strength was not at its best for local programs. The boys squads at Coahulla Creek and Dalton were the only area teams to qualify for their respective state meets in Carrollton — Houston and Pacheco earned their invitations as individuals — so there is definitely room to grow in 2012.
Still, having experienced talent back as a foundation should be good for everyone in the area as they take their first steps toward what they hope is ultimately a trip to Carrollton, where Classes 2A through 6A will hold their state meets on Nov. 10. (In a break from tradition forced by the GHSA’s move to six classifications, Class A will compete in Macon on Nov. 3.)
Here’s a look at what the season might hold for area teams, including new addition Morris Innovative.
Coahulla Creek opened its doors in August 2011, so the fall sports programs had the early shot at becoming the school’s first team to make postseason state competition.
Colts cross country did not disappoint.
The boys team broke through by finishing second at the Region 7-2A meet, earning the top-four finish needed to qualify for state. The Colts were then 10th at the Class 2A meet — the best state finish among local teams in any classification — so co-head coach Ben Williams is happy to have little turnover from that roster.
“We ended up beating the team that we got second to (in the region meet), River Ridge,” Williams said. “So we finished first in our region at state.”
Now competing in Region 5-3A, the Colts’ returning talent includes Sadoth Fraire, who finished eighth at region and 42nd at state on his way to all-area honors a year ago, and Caleb Carlson, Blake Phillips and Junior Villareal, who drew all-area honorable mention. Also returning are Missael Fraire, Luis Lee Martinez, Preston Pangle and Ronnie Vargas. All except Pangle competed in Carrollton last season.
But Williams is impressed with some of the newer runners, too.
“We’ve got a couple, two or three, that are fringing on running varsity, and over the summer they’ve come a lot farther,” Williams said. “We should have some close runoffs for the final three spots on varsity.”
Last year, Williams oversaw the boys while Elizabeth Scroggs coached the Lady Colts. This year, Williams and Josh Deslattes are acting as co-head coaches for both teams.
Deslattes said the goal for the boys is to finish strong in their new region.
“A lot of the teams from last year moved up with us,” he said. “We want the kids to race themselves, but I know a lot of them will want to have another strong showing at state.”
For the girls, Gisel Maldonado and Evelyn Bocello return from last year’s small squad.
“We’ve almost doubled our numbers in girls for this year,” Deslattes said. “We’re at around 10. For the boys and girls combined, we’re at about 30 runners right now.”
The teams will have runoffs this week, and Williams will know better who his other top contributors may be.
“We’ve had some summer practices, and the majority of my team either ran track or played soccer in the spring,” he said.
Coahulla Creek opens its season Sept. 4 in a meet at Sonoraville.
The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for the past two seasons, Houston provides an example that Dalton coach Karen Galyon would no doubt be happy for all of her runners — girls and boys — to follow.
Houston, who first competed with the Lady Catamounts as an eighth-grader by running in junior varsity meets, is back for her senior season after finishing third in Region 7-3A and 14th at state. And that success is built on hard work and perseverance that has helped Houston overcome setbacks along the way, like injuries.
“We’re counting on her to help out, particularly with the less experienced runners, and she’s been doing a really good job,” Galyon said. “She’s helping others with pacing and working together and everything.”
Houston’s speed means that she sometimes trains with the boys, but she still has plenty of opportunities to provide leadership to the Lady Cats. That’s key this year with plenty of rebuilding happening on the girls roster.
Another senior Galyon will look to is Caroline Norman, who first came out for cross country last season — she had participated in cheerleading as an underclassman — but was unable to compete much because of injuries. Ashley Knox, Ashley Parham and Elizabeth Queen, all sophomores, also show good potential.
“They’re young but very tenacious and very good about working hard,” Galyon said. “Their work ethic is great.”
Fabiola Torres, a freshman, has been promising in early workouts and could be part of the core group counted on to lead the way.
Dalton’s boys seem to have no shortage of talent, and Galyon knows there’s likely to be plenty of jostling among her top dozen runners for the top seven spots from week to week.
Key returners include Francisco Perez, a junior who earned all-area honors last year, and seniors Anthony Hernandez and Noel Salaices, who earned honorable mention. Seniors Trey Hurt and Ramiro Huitanda — The Daily Citizen’s All-Area 2011 Boys Soccer Player of the Year but a first-time runner — plus juniors Ozzie Bastida, Eduardo Laredo and Brandon Pineda and freshmen Omar Lopez and Junior Perez should also be in the top group.
Galyon has no complaints about depth for her boys lineup.
“It really helps,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about wearing anybody down, because we don’t have to have them for every single race. We can train a little smarter and it benefits them, because they peak at the right time.”
Dalton opens its season Sept. 4 in a meet hosted by Northwest Whitfield at Edwards Park.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers are a bit behind most area teams because there are still eligibility and participation questions for many potential runners at the school.
However, Morris Innovative coach Dee Bonds’ expectation for the first-year cross country program is simple: Start building for future years.
This will be the second varsity sports program at Morris, following boys soccer, which launched in the spring.
Morris Innovative is pulling a lot of students from different schools and areas, which raises eligibility questions, Bonds said. That is putting her team quite behind as far as practices.
“I just met with our athletic director, and we’re trying to get our rosters set,” Bonds said Monday. “We have a list of kids here, but we’re not sure who will be eligible and who we have here. So we’re getting a late start.”
Bonds said the program is “really in the beginning stages” and she and athletic director Pat Hunt were going through potential runners to determine who is eligible.
“We got the OK from last season, but we’re moving and getting new kids, so we didn’t have a team set last year,” Bonds said. “That nixed all summer workouts. This is all new to us, so we’re muddling through it as quickly as we can.”
Bonds said around 20 kids, boys and girls, showed interest. She hopes to get five for each squad, the minimum required to score as a team, and expects younger runners to fill the roster.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to,” she said. “This year will be a learning experience for myself and the kids. Coming from middle school they have some distance experience, but not much.”
Julia Cagle will assist Bonds, who does not have any cross country coaching experience but ran track and field in high school.
“This is my first ever (coaching job),” Bonds said. “At Morris the sports have come up organically. Our kids have said, ‘Hey, why don’t we have this? Why don’t we have that?’ Whatever the kids are interested in, I’m happy to help.”
The Tigers will compete in Region 7-2A with Murray County, Armuchee, Calhoun, Chattooga, Coosa, Dade County, Model and Pepperell. Morris Innovative’s first competition will be a Sept. 13 meet hosted by Murray County on Fort Mountain.
Much like Dalton’s boys, the Indians should have a good battle for place finishes among their top runners, and veteran coach Sam Young is hopeful that could produce good results across the board.
“You’ve got to pull together,” he said, “but you’ve got to push each other.”
So far, Ivan Delgado’s intensive summer training has helped him stay at the front of a pack that includes Antonio Bautista, Antonio Martinez, Servio Martinez. Including Delgado, all are juniors save Antonio Martinez, a freshman and Servio’s younger brother.
True time trials are set for this week, and Murray County will open its season Saturday at the Pickens Preview Invitational. Young believes chasing Delgado could be a good incentive for now, and he’d like to see everyone pushing each other as the season goes on.
“I’m really optimistic because these five or six guys have the potential to be very competitive,” said Young, who is the longest tenured area coach as he prepares for his 12th season in charge in Chatsworth.
Some optimism could also be supplied by the school’s athletic programs moving from Region 7-3A to 7-2A. While there will still be talented runners and programs in the new league, the Indians should be on a more level playing field than in recent seasons when it comes to school enrollment.
Seniors Martin Contreras, a standout basketball player, and Jordan Richardson are also among the 15 boys on Young’s roster.
The girls roster is considerably smaller, with the Lady Indians needing two more runners just to be able to score team points.
Nayeli Jacobo, a senior, Catherine Gonzalez, a junior, and Celena Sanchez, a sophomore, are the only girls out at Murray County after a dozen or more expressed interest in the spring.
But Young is going with what he’s got, and he’s happy to have Jacobo, an experienced runner who earned all-area honorable mention in 2011, and Gonzalez and Sanchez, both first-time runners.
Unless the team grows in the coming weeks — Murray County doesn’t return to school until next month, and there’s the possibility that might supply a few more runners — that trio will have to fight for high individual finishes at region to make it to state.
Success for these girls could prove a good recruiting tool, though, and Young is eyeing future growth already.
“We have five middle school boys and three or four middle school girls (who are training),” he said. “They’ll run the open races (as junior varsity competitors). That’s a plus, because we’ve been trying to get that program going ... and we’ve got the biggest numbers ever out for that.”
Mountaineers soccer coach Matt Chambers takes over the cross country program, but the first-year running coach will have plenty of experience on the roster. Also, as a soccer coach, he has had to deal with plenty of conditioning and running before.
“It is sort of natural for soccer players to be distance runners, so we have a lot of soccer guys and soccer girls who are turning into pretty good cross country runners,” Chambers said. “In a short time, I’ve come to love cross country. I am pretty proud of the work they have put in for two and a half weeks.”
Pacheco will of course be out front for the Mountaineers — he has already started making a name for himself on the area road race circuit while competing against more experienced adults — but the depth behind the area’s top high school distance runner is building within the team.
“Isaac is probably one of the most determined and dedicated individuals that I have ever met,” Chambers said. “It isn’t just a cross country season thing or a track season thing for him. It is a huge part of his life. It pushes him and makes him a great runner.”
Classmate Freddy Urbina will help to push Pacheco, with juniors Chris Joaquin, Guillermo Cruz and Jesus Cruz looking to be close on his heels. As the team moves up a class to 3A, there will be tight competition within Region 5, but Chambers likes his team’s chances of being near the top.
“There has been a lot of movement with some of the teams across the state, and it bodes well for Isaac to have a really strong year,” Chambers said. “He will have a great shot at the region title, and with him leading the charge and our slowest guys just barely over 21 (minutes), I feel pretty good about where we are at right now.”
For the Lady Mountaineers, four girls — Kerstin Amos, Hannah Anderson, Gabrielle Vincenté and Jesenia Gasper — have set themselves at the head of the pack.
“The girls have been improving tremendously all the way around,” Chambers said. “We can make a nice late push with the girls, getting better and better as the season goes along.”
North Murray’s season begins Saturday at the Pickens Preview Invitational.
Both the Bruins and Lady Bruins finished eighth in a stacked Region 7-4A last year, and while Northwest is in the same region designation, the members of the region have changed dramatically.
Northwest’s runners will see more familiar faces this year back in the same region with Dalton and Southeast Whitfield.
“It will be great as far as travel is concerned with everything being a lot closer when it comes to the region meet,” Northwest coach Tom Sell said. “I also think there will be a little more parity from top to bottom in this new region.”
The Bruins return senior twins Brody and Parker Cook, a pair of burners who were six seconds apart in a recent 2-mile time trial and a minute ahead of the rest of the Northwest pack.
“They have been working a lot this summer, so I am excited to see how they do against other runners,” Sell said. “They are very competitive and they push each other. Last year, they were back and forth and back and forth. They are so close.”
The two seniors will be pushed by classmate Daulton Ash, juniors Dylan Richards and Lane Bramblett and sophomore Brandon Balino.
“This is probably the best group we have had in the last three years,” Sell said. “They are all pushing each other well, and they are always running as a group. My three seniors are doing a great job of leading this. It makes it so much easier on me as a coach to have others who are pushing the rest of them.”
Seniors will also lead the Lady Bruins, who return Shelby Wilson and Natali Williams for their final season. Wilson has separated herself at the top, finishing more than a minute ahead of her teammates in a two-mile trial, but she and Williams both earned all-area honors last year.
“She is working hard to have a good senior year,” Sell said of Wilson, who has three state medals in track. “I think she is excited and wants to finish up strong. She is going to have a big year this year. She is in a different time zone from last year.”
Junior Caroline Duffy, freshman Nancy Paz and sophomore Karli Williams round out the Northwest top five for now, with Karli Williams — Natali’s younger sister — also a 2011 all-area honoree.
The Bruins open their season today with a trip to the Chattanooga Cross Country League’s Jamboree at Baylor School.
Kevin Kettenring is used to coaching athletes who are running — just not ones following a specific course.
After more than two decades coaching high school soccer for boys and girls, Kettenring has added cross country to his duties for the first time. He’ll lead Southeast’s boys this season, taking over for Steve Smith.
“Soccer and cross country, they’re not married, but they’re close relatives,” said Kettenring, who is also changing in his soccer role this school year, going from girls coach to boys coach when that sport returns in the spring. “We’ve always encouraged our girls and guys to run, and many of them did, so we kept an eye on the cross country program.”
Kettenring said he’s educating himself on the sport and has been consulting with Smith, as well as Lady Raiders coach Carrie Bishop. He’s also enjoying himself.
“It’s fun to kind of not have to worry about specific stats, other than the kids’ times getting better and doing personal bests and that kind of thing,” Kettenring said. “I’ve got a lot to learn, and I don’t have much experience in what the region provides ... but I know we’ve struggled in the past trying to get a team together, a good consistent group that will push each other and form that camaraderie. Other schools are years ahead there, but if I can bring some stability to the program, I’m happy to do that.”
While he’s still learning whom he’ll be able to count on as his core group, Kettenring said he’s seen good things from Marcos Arrendondo and Luis Fraire, among others.
But all of the Raiders have responded well in early training, he said, which include Bishop’s incorporation of Insanity workouts, a system that utilizes interval training with exercises that don’t require additional equipment — just one’s own body weight — Bishop said.
“It’s something we did in the offseason some last year,” Bishop said. “They want to do it every day, but we don’t.”
As she enters her third season as coach, Bishop has more than 15 girls on the roster, more than double of what recent years have yielded.
“That’s exciting,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to get the girls out than the guys.”
And Bishop is confident this group can achieve if they keep working, with a trip to state the goal.
Seniors Angelica Herrera and Alejandra Lerma and sophomores Sandy Torres and Cinthia Flores are among those showing good potential right now.
“I’m really just looking for my older girls to push the younger girls to make them better,” Bishop said. “I’d like for us to finish in the top four at region obviously, and I think we can. We’ve got some fast girls that just have to get used to pacing. But I think we can be competitive in the region this year.”
— Compiled by sports editor Marty Kirkland, sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondent Doug Hawley.
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