FORTVILLE — Most teams hit this hard by graduation would be in rebuilding mode.
Mt. Vernon’s boys cross country team does not fall into that category.
The Marauders, though losing four talented runners to graduation, are still expected to have a good chance to repeat the successes of the past.
In 2021, the team won Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference titles for the third straight time. Ranked as high as No. 17 in the state, Mt. Vernon added a regional championship, its first since 2014, and sent two runners to the IHSAA Boys Cross Country State Finals.
They are going to miss co-county runner of the year and state qualifier Austin Rush (Olivet Nazarene), along with fellow grads Joseph Blagrave (IUPUI), Sam Wilson (Franklin) and Reyce Morgan. All were key contributors to the latest Marauder achievements.
“You go back the last three years, those four have been main factors in every meet,” head coach Bruce Kendall said.
They didn’t lose Tristan Trevino.
The senior made his Mt. Vernon debut in last year’s mid-September Hancock County Meet.
Previously running in junior varsity events after transferring from Lawrence Central, Trevino won the individual county title. The Marauder newcomer backed it up just a few days later by becoming the individual champion at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet.
He went on to have a strong postseason, finishing fifth at sectional, fourth at regional and 27th at semistate. The performance at semistate earned him a spot at the state meet, where he finished 77th.
Though four strong runners are gone, junior Colin Strachman gives the team another strong veteran presence.
Strachman, a top runner since his freshman season, placed fourth at county and eighth in both the conference and regional races.
“The fifth guy has always been Strachman, then Trevino moves in last year,” Kendall said. “Trevino is our No. 1 runner, but Strachman will be right there with him. They will be a nice 1-2. Those two will be the best two. After that, the sophomore class is really good.”
Two sophomores ran some varsity events last year. Landon Willis placed 15th at sectional and 19th at regional. Due to an injury, Ahmed Saleh got a chance to compete in the semistate. He finished as the team’s No. 6 runner.
Kendall believes Saleh could move up to No. 3 this year.
Xaiden Jensen is another sophomore that can move his way into the varsity lineup. Junior Isaiah Njau, whose father is the former head coach at IUPUI, is expected to be in the mix, too.
The sophomores aren’t the only strong class of youngsters.
“The freshman class is the best freshman class I’ve had since 1981,” Kendall, in his 43rd season as head coach, said.
That class includes Caden Cassada, Cooper Hunziker, Austin Baugh and Tyler Tharp. All have done well at the middle school level, but they will be moving from 3K races to 5K.
“They will be factors,” Kendall added. “The team is so young we won’t know how things play out until we’re deep in the season. I can’t predict how they will do at the 5K distance, but we may not be much different than the team from a year ago.”
Junior Jackson Dayhoff, who returns to the program after playing soccer last fall, is another runner Kendall believes could push for lineup time. Senior Daylon King, who has ran well in middle distance for the Marauders track and field program, gives the team more depth. Junior all-state track and field runner Andres Langston is also part of the 19-member roster.
IndianaRunner.com has the Marauders ranked No. 24 in its preseason poll. The website INCCSTATS.com has Mt. Vernon No. 25.
The Marauders open their season Aug. 13 at the Valley Kickoff, hosted by Indiana State University. They will race on the LaVern Gibson course, which will also be the site of the state finals on Oct. 29.