Alices in position to make a move
The gap might be closing, but there's a lot of room to make up when it comes to catching South Knox's boys cross country team.
The running Spartans have to replace three starters off last year's sectional runner-up and semistate-qualifying team. But that usually isn't a problem at South Knox, where they often have a dozen qualified candidates to fill in spots.
Lincoln returns its entire lineup that qualified for the regional individually, but not as a team as it placed sixth in the sectional. North Knox welcomes back three starters and a regional qualifier, but was eighth among 10 teams in the sectional.
Rivet does not have a team this year.
The Spartans lost four of their top seven runners, but coach Matt Toothman said this is a reload as opposed to a rebuild and that he expected it to be one of his better teams in his 11th year at the helm.
He returns top runner, junior Oliver Smith, who placed fourth in the sectional and 14th in the regional. Senior Trenton Faulkner, who was 16th in the sectional, is the only other top-five runner returning. Toothman is bullish on junior Will Staggs, who is expected to be near Faulkner.
"We have a team with great experience up front. We should have three, if not four guys, in the lead pack every race this year," Toothman said. "Our one-three pack is fast and tight. Our four-nine pack is going to be a force and a team strength."
Toothman said six runners are capable of filling in the other two starting spots: freshmen Caleb Cork, Chase Staggs, Lane Garner, Dylan Maeder, junior Owen Singleton and sophomore Jacob Siewers.
"We have some freshmen who need to fill spots, but we're not afraid to throw freshmen in big-time meets," Toothman said. "We have some depth and our JV team is going to be solid and competitive."
The lengthy roster also has seniors Andrew Adams, Anthony Ketchem and Josh Melvin, sophomore Dylan Hardig and freshmen Aaron Brown, Trevor Forney, Pedro Pantall, Clayton Peterson and Logan Robinson.
"We are a top-five team in southern Indiana now. Come mid-September we're going to be a tough team," Toothman said.
The coach noted that several goals are attainable, with the Blue Chip Conference and the South Knox Sectional at the top of the list. Invitational wins at Boonville, Evansville Harrison, South Knox, Barr-Reeve and Pike Central are also coveted.
"We are the defending conference champs and have won six of the last eight. We'd like to continue that success," Toothman said. "The sectional could be a three-team race with Gibson Southern and Barr-Reeve along with us. We were second at the sectional and third at the regional last year. We want to win the sectional and the regional, then see what happens."
The Alices have experience, with senior and semistate qualifier Parker Mullins leading the way for new coach Craig Klitz
"Replacing coach Cody Trueblood are big shoes to fill, but we expect this season to be special," Klitz said. "Mullins returns as the No. 1 man and he went deep in the postseason last fall. Spots two through seven I anticipate to fluctuate throughout the season."
Klitz lauded the senior leadership of Mullins, Evan McGuire and Trevor Robbins. DeAndre Flowers is the only junior, while sophomores are Blake Meade, Nate Harris and Keenan Clegg.
The sophomores, paced by Meade, have potential. Meade (25th), Clegg (32nd) and Harris (35th) were the three fastest freshman at the South Knox Sectional last year. Robbins was the team's fifth runner a year ago, taking 36th at the sectional.
Lincoln can depend on Mullins, who is among the best runners in the area. He was fifth at last year's sectional and had the county's best finish at the Pike Central Regional, placing 10th. An obvious next step for the team is to qualify as a team for the regional, with a top-five finish needed.
What has hurt the team in recent years is a lack of runners. While seven are more than enough for a team score, it's still a concern for Klitz.
"For the future to build the program, we need more bodies, particularly underclassmen to replace the outgoing seniors," Klitz said. "Our goals are to stay injury free and peak at the right time."
The Warriors have eight runners, led by senior regional runner Steven Calvert, but have room to make up to get with the other two teams in the county.
Calvert was the 10th and last individual qualifier to reach the regional, going 37th at the sectional. Junior Cavan Lemberg, who also plays soccer, almost joined him with a 39th-place finish. The team's third runner a year ago, junior Levi Brocksmith, opted to play football this year and left the team.
A big difference between North Knox and a team like Lincoln is the Warriors don't have a front runner. They do have adequate depth. Senior Dayton Poe, juniors Isaiah Calvert and Dylan Birdsong, sophomore Ethan Stiles and freshmen Anden West and Dakota Lawrence complete the roster.
"We expect to be somewhat better. Our main guys should be more consistent than they were a year ago," Warriors coach Bob Hunt said. "Steven enjoyed going to the regional last year and his goal is to improve this year. We're going to shoot to get out of the sectional as a team, and seeing those teams we're going to have beat there during the year is going to give us a good idea how far away we are."
Hunt noted that Steven Calvert, Lemberg and West are interchangeable as the team's top three runners. Isaiah Calvert and Lawrence look to fill the fourth and fifth spots.
"Cavan and Anden were dedicated running in the summer. Steven and Ethan realized at practice that those two had a head start and are trying to catch up," Hunt said. "Dakota is someone who has potential, but is going to have to adjust to the longer distance of a high school race.
"We have seven runners who can finish in the top five and should finish close to each other," Hunt said. "It would be nice to have that top-five runner in the big races, to boost our place, point-wise. Just looking at our track team, we just don't have any distance runners on our team."