GREENFIELD — With a pair of seniors and a junior runner, Greenfield-Central boys cross-country coach Aaron Smith has every right to believe the 2017 campaign could be a magical one for the Cougars.
“The last few years, we have been able to compete at the end of the year, and that expectation is still there this year,” Smith said.
Leading the pack this season will be seniors Zac Archibald and Cooper Hanson, both of whom are in their fourth years running.
Archibald earned All-Hancock County honors last year, while Hanson earned All-County and All-Hoosier Heritage Conference honors, along with sectional and regional distinctions.
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While the two talented runners return, the Cougars will have to deal with the losses of Jacob Hanson and Joel Carpenter to graduation.
Hanson was the top runner a season ago en route to winning the county title, finishing second at the conference meet, and earning sectional and regional titles before ending as a state qualifier.
“Any time you are as successful as he was, it will be hard to replace. We may not be able to get the low score we did last year from him, but we have a group of runners who will all score low to help replace that loss,” Smith said.
When it comes to Carpenter, Smith said he did a good job in the five hole last year.
“He was consistent for us all year. We need someone to do the same this year,” Smith said.
That someone for Greenfield-Central could be junior Parker Niemeier, who was also named All-County and has had success at the conference, sectional and regional levels.
Greenfield Central will also lean on juniors Greg Flora and Will Wickham; sophomores Ethan Enochs and Conner Kinnaman; and freshmen Gage Guenin and Austin Nigh.
“We only have two seniors this year, so we will be developing the younger runners to not only help us this year, but in the future,” Smith said.
A year ago the Dragons of New Palestine High School ran away with the Hancock County championship with a team full of seniors.
“Samuel Voltz, Caleb Eagleson and Chase Crowder were part of a very talented group that did special things in cross-country and track. It will be very tough to replace them, but the returnees are working really hard to fill in for them,” Dragons head coach Chuck Myers said. “Those seniors meant a great deal to our program, and they did things that have never done and were great leaders.”
While the seniors may have moved on, plenty of talent returns for Myers.
Pacing the Dragons will be juniors Kyler Harrison and Drew Austin, both of whom earned All-HHC and All-Hancock County honors last year.
Also rounding out the lineup will be senior Alex Mohr, juniors Josh Collins and Caleb Strim and sophomore Quinn Dobbins.
“All ran junior varsity for us last year and look to step up this season. Plus, we have many freshmen coming in and I hope they can help out as well,” Myers said.
Despite the fact that there will be new runners, the goal remains the same for New Palestine when it comes to the county title.
“I think if we work hard, we can be county champions again. It will be tough because Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon are always competitive. The county usually comes down to a few points, so I hope that we work hard enough to be on the right side of those points,” Myers said.
When it comes to experience, no team in Hancock County may have more than Bruce Kendall’s Marauders.
The coach welcomes 27 runners this year, including seniors Drew Bluethmann and Tim Broaders, both of whom are in their fourth year with the program.
“Like the rest of the team, all return from last year, plus there are new runners,” Kendall said.
Other top runners returning are seniors Alex Carver and Trey Klevickas and sophomore Mario Ramirez.
“This will be another run for semistate in Fort Wayne, and along the way we will have to contend with a herd of horses at every step,” Kendall said.
Helping to make that run will be juniors Alex Tharp, Riley Glassing, Ben LaBelle, Joshua Meenan, Ryan Strantz and freshman Tyler Strantz.
“The most improved is Jacob Benz, so expect him to have his sharp points ready,” Kendall said.
With everyone back, Kendall is excited to see how far his Marauders have come since last fall when they placed third at the Pendleton Heights Sectional, led by Bluethmann in ninth.
“Since there are no key losses from 2016, the question is have we improved? If you are not that good the year before, then why would you be better the next? I guess we will see very soon,” he said.
The goals are high for the Eastern Hancock Royals boys cross-country team this season under the guidance of head coach Rex Putt.
“Our team goals are to win our own invitational, our new Mid-Eastern Conference title and advance to regional. If we can’t advance our entire team due to our extremely competitive sectional, we are at least looking to advance three to four individuals,” Putt said.
In order to accomplish those goals, Eastern Hancock will be leaning on senior Will Huffman and junior Skyler Schrope.
According to Putt, Schrope enters fresh off an “excellent spring” in track.
“He has the potential to break the 17 minute barrier and could have a good chance to advance to semistate this fall. Will also has a chance to advance to semistate if he continues to improve. Both runners worked hard this summer to prepare for the season,” Putt said.
While just a freshman, Putt will lean on Daniel Campbell, who was the county middle school champion last year, to help ease the void of Gabe Blake.
Other runners will be sophomores Westin Bishop and Nick Edwards, freshman Aaron Surbug and foreign exchange student Pietro Cavaletti, who, according to Putt, will be battling for the fifth scoring position.
“We have a great group of runners who are excellent students in the classroom and friends, as well as supportive teammates,” Putt said.