County teams have a lot of ground to make up
The South Knox boys have dominated seemingly forever, but the Lady Spartans cross country team has built a recent stretch where they are also the team to beat in the county.
This year should only add to it as South Knox has the front-end talent and depth that's going to be hard for any team to beat. They were a semistate qualifier last season and expect to be at least that good this year.
North Knox has the arrow going upward as the roster grew to go with some talented returnees. It was Lincoln, not the Warriors, which qualified for the regional a year ago. But without a star runner and depth, the Alices might have to play a game of catch up this season.
Rivet does not have a cross country team this season.
The Spartans had five runners place in the top 20 in the sectional, and all of them are back to go with multiple promising newcomers.
None of them are better than senior Mykayla Couchenour, who was a state qualifier as a freshman and has been to three semistates. The only downer so far has been the injury sustained last track sesaon to senior and No. 2 runner Jill Reeves. Coach Betsy Couchenour said she is going to lighten Reeves' workload during the season to try to get her right.
Two newcomers, freshman Ava Like and junior Daisie Kinnett, have made instant splashes and are expected to be the team's third and fourth runners. That makes for a deeper team with last year scorers, sophomore Macie Couchenour, and juniors Gretchen Carie and Lexi Detweiler moving down in the lineup.
Trying to crack that top seven are senior Delaney Bobe, junior Adrianne Rusch, sophomores Cora Anson and Talia Small, and freshman Peyton Robbins, who with Like, was a middle school standout.
"We had no seniors last year, so we have eight returnees with valuable experience," coach Couchenour said. "To add to that, we brought in two definite top-five quality runners and another top-seven candidate. Our talent runs deeper than it ever has in the nine years I've been involved with South Knox cross country. We have low sticks in our 1-3 spots, with a tight 4-7 pack not too far behind."
If the freshmen need time to adjust from 3K to 5K races, it won't hurt the Spartans.
"Small was in our top five in seven of 11 races and Detweiler was in six. Anson ran in our top seven all season and dropped time tremendously as she gained experience," Couchenour said.
Barr-Reeve forced South Knox to accept runner-up spots in the Blue Chip Conference and the South Knox Sectional last year. The Spartans are ready to turn that around and set their sights even higher.
"Barr-Reeve graduated a couple of their scorers, so we have our sights set on the conference and sectional championships this year." Couchenour said. "We were third in the regional behind Barr-Reeve and Evansville Memorial. We believe we can strongly compete for a regional title and can make a respectable run for a state appearance."
The Warriors return two regional qualifiers from last year, junior Brittany Page and sophomore Macy Dye, from a senior-less team that ran seventh in the sectional.
The roster has grown to 10, including four freshmen. Lyndsay Fuller and Brianna Page are the seniors. Ashlynn Ivers joins Page in the junior class. Natalie Phegley is the other sophomore, and the freshmen are Reegan Hammelman, Jeena Oaks, Hailey Pahmeier and Ava Williams.
"Our team numbers are up this year, which is great to see. We have a positive group of girls who are willing to put in the work," said coach Erica Armes, who has been a co-coach with Jay Bunte in the past but takes over the team this year.
Hammelman is expected to be the breakout runner in the group, but it's Brittany Page, an 11th-place finisher in the sectional, who is on the top of the list.
"Brittany is a dedicated runner and trains hard all year round. Macy joined the team last year as a first-year runner, so I'm looking forward to what year two brings for her," Armes said. "Reegan led our junior high team the last couple of years and I definitely expect to see her join the top three. She's a natural-built runner and has a competitive spirit."
The coach pointed to another freshman, Williams, and Phegley to fill the top five. Phegley has recovered from an injury-filled freshman year.
"Both our seniors joined the team for the first time last year and are great role models for our team. Ashlynn is new to the team too," Armes said. "So we have a lot of either first or second-year members of the team. It's also the first year for Reegan and Ava competing at the 5K level.
"I'm still positive for what this year is going to bring. We are working toward a regional-qualifying team, and I am confident we can make that happen."
The Alices have a mix of veterans and newcomers, but with only six runners and one having her preseason start late for an injury, it doesn't leave much margin for error.
Who veteran coach Ralph Connor can count on are juniors Alexus Arvin, Emma Hobbs and Sierra Rasico. They were the second, fourth and fifth runners on last year's team, with Hobbs the better of the trio at last year's sectional, taking 26th. But Connor noted that Arvin has put in the work in the offseason and is the team's No. 1 runner.
Freshman Gracie Kramer has promise, but is the one with the preseason injury. By the end of August, Connor is counting on her to be the team's second runner. Junior Jayda Hovland and sophomore MacKenzie Taylor have track backgrounds, but are out for the cross country team for the first time. Because of the lack of numbers, at least one of them is going to be counted toward the team score.
"I'm looking for girls to improve their times from last year, with the other girls becoming more competitive as the season goes along," Connor said. "Our goals are to place either second or third in the conference and to qualify for the regional.
"This team by the end of the year can be better than the one a year ago, but it isn't right now."
Arvin and Hovland both are on the soccer team, which is going to make negotiating the season even tougher. Arvin, in particular, is being counted on heavily for the Lincoln harriers to have success.
"Alexus has run more than the others. She's been in road races and has more experience. She was 31st in last year's sectional, and I think she's improved to where she could finish in the low-to-mid 20s this year," Connor said. "With half of the team not having run a high school 3.1-mile race, it's hard to know how they're going to react."