After winning the Hancock County meet last season in his first year in control, New Palestine head cross-country coach Greg Meyers is coming into a new season blind.

With a chunk of his top runners gone from a season ago, Meyers doesn’t fully know what to expect from his Dragons, he said.

New Palestine said farewell to 2015-16 seniors Sarah Schwartz, Mattie Waggoner and Bailey Wallace, and sophomore Grace Voelz, the team’s No. 1 runner and a semistate qualifier a season ago, who decided to focus on soccer this fall.

“We did lose quite a bit off the roster,” Meyers said. “We have about eight to 10 girls back from last year, so we do have a decent chain back. We are fairly inexperienced, so we really don’t have a No. 1.

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“They are all looking to step up and fill that position. It should be exciting.”

Sophomore Julie Strange, who finished 151st at the Carmel Semistate last season, returns as New Palestine’s most experienced runner.

“She had a very good summer, and I think she will be very competitive for the top spot,” Meyers said. “Fortunately, there are (junior varsity) girls (from last year) who stepped up and had good summers and will compete for it, too.”

Also expected to push for a top spot on the team is senior Kailyn Turner, junior Emma Wiggington and senior Natalie Lindsay.

“This is only her (Turner) second year running, but I think she is going to step up big time for the team,” Meyers said. “It’s going to help after losing our 1-2-3 from last year.”

Meyers likes the program’s numbers, too, as 27 girls are out for the team this season.

But with a new team and a condensed summer, Meyers said it was hard to achieve ample training in basically seven weeks’ time. However, he believes as the season progresses, although inexperienced, his squad will come together just fine.

“We have a good number and a lot to choose from. We just need to take a little bit of time here,” Meyers said. “I am happy with that, and we have a good coaching staff.”

Last season, in addition to winning county, the Dragons finished second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. They went on to finish fourth at the regional.

“By the end of the season, we should be where we need to be,” Meyers said. “We might take our lumps, because there are a lot of good teams out there.

“I think all the teams will be competitive at county, and other than Pendleton Heights (in conference) it should be real tight.”

MT. VERNON

Outlook: Entering the 2016 season, longtime Mt. Vernon head coach Bruce Kendall knows two things about his cross-country team: they are young and talented, which could be a scary combination.

With the loss of 2016 senior Chelsea Foster (Goshen College), the Marauders will not have a clear cut No. 1 runner — although several individuals could compete for the spot.

Sophomore Addison Cullom has shown promise but is coming off a track injury and will need time to adjust. Senior Erin Lyday elected not to run track but will surely compete again for the No. 1 spot, which she shared with Foster — at times — last season.

“(Cullom) got injured at the very end of the track season and lost the whole summer,” Kendall said.

Lyday finished fourth at the Hancock County meet last season to lead the team.

In all, eleven girls are out at Mt. Vernon. Junior Hannah Watson and sophomore Reagan Woodruff will also look to contribute at the top, Kendall said.

“Most of my team is freshman and sophomores, but the young ones are strong,” Kendall said. “Every year is our year. I never look to next year or the year after. That tells your seniors that this isn’t your time.

“It’s a really good group of runners. There is no weak link there, but there is no one who is going to dominate.”

Last season, Mt. Vernon finished second at the county meet and sixth overall at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet. It placed third in sectional action, fifth at the regional and 16th at semistate.

“We try to put it together for the IHSAA tournaments,” Kendall said. “Anything before that is just preparation. It is all about learning and getting kids to their best at the same time.”

The girls team has also been to eight consecutive semistates. Currently, according to inccstats.com, the Marauders are ranked sixth in their regional.

Eastern Hancock

Outlook: Of the five runners who contributed to the Royals team score at the regional meet at Rushville last season, three were lost to graduation. What was a senior-led team propelled by a freshman standout in 2015, has become a youthful team looking to bridge the gap until experience can reign again.

Sophomore Taylor Stine, an individual semistate qualifier, and juniors Liberty Durham and Annie Floyd will be the elder stateswomen of this year’s squad, but 11th-year coach Rex Putt knows it’s the even younger runners behind them that will determine if the school’s regional qualification streak will continue.

“The streak depends on how our young kids develop this year,” Putt said. “The fourth and fifth person in each meet is very important, and we need to develop one of those to reach our team goals.”

Putt is counting on incoming freshman Lainey Effing to push for the fourth, or even third, spot.

“(Effing) is a freshman who shows a lot of potential; she could be one of our better runners if she focuses on getting stronger,” said Putt.

Three more underclassmen in freshman Carissa Wicker and sophomores Grace McCartney and Makla Law round out the mix for the all-important fifth spot. Despite being the defending Mid-Hoosier Conference champions, the Royals will not be able to defend their title as the school has left the conference and remains independent for the 2016 school year.

“We lost the chance to go for one of our major goals,” Putt said. “But we are still optimistic that by the time we get to the sectional we can meet our regional expectation.”

Greenfield-Central

Outlook: The Greenfield Central girls cross-country team is in the second year of fielding a young squad, but fourth-year coach Scott Burton sees positives along with the challenges that fact imposes.

Despite not qualifying for the regional as a team, three Cougars underclassmen qualified as individuals. Sydney Cook, who also earned a berth into the 2015-16 IHSAA State Finals in track, along with Sarah Muckerheide, and Brenna Ditto advanced to the Rushville Regional. With all three of those runners still with at least two years remaining, Burton has the opportunity to build a program while pursuing team goals for this individual season.

“My major focus is developing young athletes, but as we’ve built the program, we’ve been able to think about some longer-term plans, although it’s not the primary focus,” said Burton.

Burton’s goals for this season are to challenge for the Hancock County title, which the Greenfield-Central girls program has never won, and to take that next step by qualifying for regional and semistate as a team.

“We cut down our miles during the summer to keep people healthy with an eye towards those two meets later in the season,” said Burton. “We didn’t pick up our intensity until the official practice season began with an eye towards reducing injury.”

Two runners who look to score in meets this season can appreciate that approach, as juniors Dusti Chestnut and Nicole Watson return from injury-plagued sophomore seasons.

Yet, backing off the intensity is a challenge with such a young team.

“With such a young team, it’s difficult sometimes to get the girls to pace themselves during practices and races,” said Burton. “However, pacing your runs now can help us reach our goals in the future.”

With a team with no seniors, Burton and the Cougars hope their pace can carry them to new heights in 2016 and beyond.

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.