NEW PALESTINE — For the first time in a decade, the New Palestine boys and girls cross-country teams will have a new coach.
Handed over to a familiar face in longtime assistant coach Chuck Myers, the programs were formerly led by Dan Weimer, who stepped down this summer.
Myers was officially approved and promoted to the head coaching position in July after New Palestine athletics director Al Cooper asked him to take over for Weimer.
A full-time assistant coach for nine years, Myers worked part-time with the cross-country teams last season after going back to school to obtain his master’s degree. He remained the full-time head coach of the girls track and field team, and he will retain that role this spring.
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Despite the unexpected change, having a familiar face in place has made the switch relatively painless for both teams, said Myers, who has been gearing up his first season the past few weeks.
“It’s been a fairly smooth transition so far since I took over,” Myers said. “Hopefully, the season goes well, and we can have a good team.”
Both squads were competitive last season and are expected to challenge once again as Hancock County runners-up in 2015.
The girls team welcomes back four of its five sectional competitors.
“There are quite a few returnees. Everyone who was not a senior last year, I believe, is coming back,” Myers said. “We have a total of 21 girls out this year, so we have a good number, which I’m excited about.”
Sarah Schwartz could be the key for the Dragons, however, returning after sitting out most of last season due to a stress fracture.
“She’s running again,” said Myers. “I think she’s healthy now, so we’re hoping to see her keep it going this year.”
Schwartz, a senior, was unable to to compete in the postseason for a second consecutive season. The injury robbed the senior of an opportunity to defend her county title as well, entering 2014 as the school’s first two-time individual champion since Amy Parish in 1992-93.
If she can compete and win this fall, Schwartz would become just the fourth girls runner to win the event three times or more since 1990.
Seniors Bailey Wallace and Mattie Waggoner are projected to team with Schwartz as the team’s top three runners.
Wallace was a top-10 runner at sectional and 19th at regional as a sophomore. Last season, she placed 22nd at the New Palestine Sectional and 37th at the Rushville Regional.
Waggoner was ninth at county as a junior, just behind Wallace.
“We’re good through probably three, and then after that we’ll have to work on the pack,” Myers said. “After that it will probably be around six or seven girls. We’ll see how it plays out over the course of the season.”
Freshman Grace Voelz, the younger sister of Sam, plans to pull double duty, playing soccer and running cross-country.
“I think Bailey is going to have a real good season. She’s been a strong runner for us ever since she was a freshman,” Myers said. “Along with Mattie Waggoner, they’ve both been working really hard and are ready to step up. With Sarah, I think all three of those seniors are really going to lead the team, and hopefully take us where we need to go.”
That destination is the Carmel Semistate where some of the state’s top runners from compete. Last fall, neither team was able to get out of the regional.
“Our goal should always be to reach the regional at the minimum,” Myers said. “From there, we can see what happens, but the semistate should always be within reach as well.”
For the boys team, which returns mostly intact from last season, having lost only one runner, Chris Poturalski, to graduation, a semistate bid is a realistic goal.
Voelz, junior Chase Crowder and senior Riley Wilson are “going to be leaned on this year,” as the team’s top three, said Myers.
“Again, we have some depth and are good through 10 on the guys side of things,” Myers said. “We’re really strong and have quite a few guys that will be competing for the four through 10 spots.”
Freshman Tyler Harrison and Caleb Stern will be newcomers to the group, which is loaded with upperclassmen experience and talent.
The centerpiece is Voelz, who will look to follow in the footsteps of Seth Eagleton’s Dragons of 2013, which qualified for semistate as a team.
“From all I’ve seen, Samuel is going to have a great year. He missed the track season with some foot tendinitis, but he’s been running all summer,” Myers said. “He look strong. I’m excited to see what he can do this season because last year he was really competitive. I know he didn’t have the semistate he wanted, but otherwise he had a very successful season.
“There are no limits to what he can do. A state appearance isn’t out of the question for him, I think.”
Voelz was edged out of a county title last fall, but kept his stride in the postseason, placing fourth at sectional (16 minutes, 48.17 seconds), third at regional and competing at semistate.
It was a tremendous surge from the previous season when Voelz was 11th at regional and 17th at sectional.
Back with Wilson, a top-10 sectional runner, and Crowder, who finished in the top 25, the Dragons could be in line for another jump.
“The biggest thing is focusing on improving on yourself and working to get better,” Myers said. “Mt. Vernon will definitely be a strong team. They return everyone as well. They’ve got to be the favorite on the guys side in conference, sectional and county, but you definitely want to compete against the best competition every race.”
NEW PALESTINE GIRLS
Coach: Chuck Myers, 1st season
2014: 2nd at Hancock County, 8th at Hoosier Heritage Conference, 7th at New Palestine Sectional
Projected top runners (grade):
Sarah Schwartz (12)
Bailey Wallace (12)
Mattie Waggoner (12)
Meghan Reel (12)
McKenzie Privette (12)
Emma Whiggington (10)
Grace Mitchell (10)
Natalie Lindsay (11)
Grace Voelz (9)
Outlook: With the return of a healthy senior Sarah Schwartz, four sectional competitors and a more experienced Bailey Wallace and Mattie Waggoner, the New Palestine Dragons are chasing down their goals in 2015.
NEW PALESTINE BOYS
Coach: Chuck Myers, 1st season
2014: 2nd at Hancock County, 4th at Hoosier Heritage Conference, 5th at New Palestine Sectional, 6th at Rushville Regional
Projected top runners (grade):
Sam Voelz (11)
Riley Wilson (12)
Tyler Carrie (12)
Aaron Kirklin (11)
Drew Legan (11)
Chase Crowder (11)
Ethan Westrate (10)
Outlook: Only losing one varsity runner to graduation in Chris Poturalski, first-year head coach Chuck Myers inherits a wealth of talent from former coach Dan Weimer’s 2014 roster. Sam Voelz tops the list, but Myers, an assistant coach for the past nine seasons, has all six postseason runners on the roster looking to challenge at the semistate level this fall.