Cross-country: Top-ranked Sabers boys feeling good about chances

Cross-country: Top-ranked Sabers boys feeling good about chances

St. Thomas More is continuing its run to the destiny the cross-country program is seeking.

"Since I walked into the STM doors, this is definitely the team I was hoping to get to," third-year Sabers coach David Behm said.

A year ago, St. Thomas More enjoyed its best season — to date — in boys' cross-country, placing fourth in the Class 1A state meet.

Champion Mount Zion and runner-up Unity had five seniors running among the top five positions. Third-place Monticello had four seniors among its five scoring runners.

Behm's Sabers had one senior in the lineup. Six of the top seven from last year are back.

When last year's state meet concluded, the Sabers' goals were set.

"It was in our minds, we wanted to be in position where we are racing for a state tile," Behm said. "That's what our goal is. It certainly helped them to run (at state) the way we ran."

Others recognize the potential. In the first issuance of the state rankings this week, placed the target on the back of the Sabers, ranking the boys' team No. 1 in Class 1A.

All-stater Nick Hess is back and is a junior. He is part of what could be a tight four-runner pack at the top of the order.

"Any of our top four can be in contention to win some races," Behm said. "It will be interesting to see who is up front."

Based on last year's state finish, Hess would be followed by senior Sean Kelley, junior Sam Powers and senior Jacob Helfrich.

"Oddly enough, all of our top four have held or currently hold a school record at a distance event," Behm said.

Hess owns the top cross-country time as well as the 1,600 and 3,200 marks in track. Powers has the 800-meter record on the track.

Other state cross-country veterans back include junior Brendan Remington and junior Christian Wilson. Two talented freshmen, Josh Stricklan and David Horn, are trying to find a spot in the varsity lineup, though Behm said "they have some developing to do."

After a breakout sophomore season, Helfrich suffered through an injury-plagued junior year.

"Last year, he ran with a torn ligament (in his foot)," Behm said. "He has gotten good, solid training in, and we're taking care of that foot.

"He has been a front-runner since fifth grade. He's a tough kid but getting the mental part back is the big thing for him."

For all of his squad members, Behm emphasized not to overtrain.

"What I preach is go out and run a consistent 40 or 50 miles (weekly), rather than 70 and then have to sit out with injuries," he said. "We spent the summer getting in a consistent number of miles."

Besides a strong corps of five juniors, there's strength in the freshman class, where there are six more prospects.

St. Thomas More will be one of more than a dozen schools competing in Saturday's Chrisman Cowchip Classic. The first race will start at 9 a.m.

Deja vu

When St. Joseph-Ogden won both of its boys' cross-country state championships (1991 and 1992) and its only girls' cross-country state crown (1990), the head coach was Jim Acklin.

Now the school's superintendent, Acklin also is returning as the head coach. He is in charge of the Spartans' boys' team. Kristin Allen is the SJ-O girls' coach.

Acklin has six lettermen on his roster, including four of the team's top seven from last year's third-place regional team: junior Corey Thompsen, senior Drew Knipfer, junior Braydon Crozier and sophomore Nick Poff.

Interest in the sport is at an all-time high. There are 28 prospects on the boys' team, and Acklin said, "That's as many as I've ever coached."

Among the team's newcomers is senior Jon Crawford, a senior who is projected as a top-seven contributor. Crawford is a former soccer letterman.

For Acklin, his return to coaching has been like Old Home Week.

"Seven athletes (from the boys' or girls' teams) are children of former students," Acklin said, "in some cases, both parents."

Challenging more records

Last year, when he secured all-state honors in Class 3A, Danville's Johnny Leverenz ran the school's all-time best 3-mile time for sophomores (15 minutes, 1 second). This year, he is taking aim on the all-time mark for juniors, a time (14:45) set 36 years ago by Mark Chase. The Vikings' all-time record (14:32), established in 2002 by senior Ricky Alvarez, also could be within his reach.

Meanwhile, his sophomore mark may be in jeopardy. Caleb Hummer has targeted that time.

On the girls' team, senior Kimberly Carter is seeking her fourth consecutive record. In 2009, she set the school record for freshmen (20:07). A year later, Carter established the mark for sophomores at Danville (19:31), and she followed up with the top time as a junior (19:02), which is also the all-time school record.

Freshman Mercedes Elliott, who ran a 5:30 mile time as an eighth-grader, could pass Carter's mark for ninth-graders, and sophomore Emily Cleveland hopes to challenge the mark for 10th-graders.

Chargers on the move

Centennial's boys' team retains four of last year's top five runners. Coach Greg Walters has an abundance of other candidates seeking positions in the top seven.

"In addition to having more runners than varsity spots available, this group has more running knowledge than any team I have previously coached," Walters said. "This is a very serious, dedicated group who has a high fitness level and has set very high goals."

Senior Aaron Miller's fitness level has him on pace for a sub-15:10 time by season's end. Miller's top 3-mile time last season was 15:59.

Bulldogs blend old, new

Mahomet-Seymour's boys' cross-country team returns 15 lettermen, but there's competition for spots beyond the veterans.

Senior Matthew Chupp, sophomore Trevor Hanlon and sophomore Jackson Powell are in cross-country for the first time. In addition, six freshmen are in the mix after helping the eighth-grade team to a fourth-place state finish last fall.

In all, head coach Neal Garrison is working with 26 boys.

Two for one

Bismarck-Henning's eight-member girls' cross-country team features five athletes who are in two fall activities. Maddie Winkler and Brittany Taylor are playing volleyball in addition to running. Becca Winkler is playing soccer for the Hoopeston Area/Bismarck-Henning cooperative team as well as running.

Morgan Morris is a cheerleader, and Ellen Dulin is a Devilette.

Notebook items

Junior Jaki Vipond, the No. 2 runner last year at Urbana Uni High, transferred to Centennial and will be one of the Chargers' top three runners. ... Central's girls' program has increased its roster size from where it was six years ago (four runners) to its current turnout (19 runners). The team leader is junior Hannah Wright, a two-time state qualifier who logged more than 400 training miles during the offseason. ... Prairie Central's numbers have increased from 11 two years ago to 30 this season. ... Clinton junior Hannah Miles has cross-country as one of her three fall activities. She's also in swimming and a cheerleader. ... Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman junior Wyatt Avenatti will try to continue a family tradition. The past four Vermilion County winners were from his family, brother Matt. ... LaSalette, which will hold tryouts Sept. 9, is seeking a threepeat at the North Vermillion (Ind.) Invitational. ... Mahomet-Seymour's girls' team has two returning letter winners, but one is senior Tessa Hanlon, who is sidelined with a stress fracture. ... St. Thomas More's top returning girls' runner, senior Theresa Welle, has her freshman sister, Julia, on the team. They could be the Sabers' top two runners. ... The largest group of runners belongs to the Sullivan/Okaw Valley co-op program. Between the boys' and girls' teams, there are 64 squad members, with at least 14 in each of the four grade levels.

Boys’ Nifty Fifty: Area runners to watch
Bryant Anderson    St. Joseph-Ogden    Jr.
Nimesh Avashia    Champaign Central    Jr.
Wyatt Avenatti    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    Jr.
Byron Brinkley    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    Sr.
Chase Connelly    Bismarck-Henning    Jr.
Braydon Crozier    St. Joseph-Ogden    Jr.
Reis DeSantis    Centennial    Jr.
Ryan Egerton    Rantoul    Sr.
Caleb Farnsworth    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    Sr.
Jesse Galaway    Monticello    Jr.
Kyle Gateley    Unity    Jr.
Nick Godsell    Unity    Jr.
Emerson Grey    Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    Sr.
George Gunter    Urbana Uni High    Jr.
Jesse Hahne    Schlarman    Sr.
Andrew Hanselman    Monticello    Sr.
Jacob Helfrich    St. Thomas More    Sr.
Nick Hess    St. Thomas More    Jr.
Anthony Holmes    Danville    Sr.
Carter Huff    Urbana    Fr.
Caleb Hummer    Danville    So.
Grant Iverson    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Jr.
Josh Johnson    Hoopeston Area    Sr.
Ryan Johnson    Sullivan/Okaw Valley    Sr.
Danny Justice    Hoopeston Area    Sr.
Sean Kelley    St. Thomas More    Sr.
Drew Knipfer    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.
Johnny Leverenz    Danville    Jr.
Ryan Masters    Prairie Central    So.
Noah McClurg    Clinton    So.
Aaron Miller    Centennial    Sr.
Brady Musson    Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    Sr.
John O’Brien    Schlarman    Sr.
Sam Powers    St. Thomas More    Jr.
Brian Rice    Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    Jr.
Tyler Rubarts    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Jr.
Ethan Russell    Mahomet-Seymour    Jr.
Jonathan Schaap    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.
Vinay Shanbhag    Urbana Uni High    Jr.
Alec Shedelbower    Centennial    So.
Kain Shirley    Champaign Central    Sr.
Tristan Smith    Argenta-Oreana    Jr.
Forrest Smoes    Mahomet-Seymour    Jr.
Matt Stock    Hoopeston Area    So.
Corey Thompsen    St. Joseph-Ogden    Jr.
Mason Wagner    Bismarck-Henning    Sr.
Corey White    Champaign Central    Jr.
Austin Woodard    Unity    Fr.
Jonny Yockey    Urbana Uni High    Jr.
Hayden Young    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Sr.

Girls’ Nifty Fifty: Area runners to watch
Hannah Bray    Hoopeston Area    So.
Veronica Brooks    St. Joseph-Ogden    So.
Madie Brown    Hoopeston Area    So.
Kimberly Carter    Danville    Sr.
Nicole Choquette    Urbana    Sr.
Emily Cleveland    Danville    So.
Aleah Combs    Rantoul    So.
Caroline Dodds    St. Thomas More    Jr.
Ellen Dulin    Bismarck-Henning    Sr.
Mercedes Elliott    Danville    Fr.
Emily Foley    Monticello    Jr.
Abby Gawthorp    St. Joseph-Ogden    Fr.
Carmen Gewirth    Urbana Uni High    So.
Gabrielle Greaser    Centennial    Fr.
Breanna Hale    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    So.
Tessa Hanlon    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.
Kaytlyn Hettmansberger    Judah Christian    Fr.
Morgan Holycross    Bismarck-Henning    Sr.
Hannah Houska    Monticello    Jr.
Holly Huckstadt    Schlarman    Sr.
Jen Hustedt    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Jr.
Caitlyn Ifft    Prairie Central    Fr.
Meghan Ingram    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    Fr.
Paxton Johnson    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Jr.
Rebecca Kaefring    Centennial    So.
Jessica Kassuelke    St. Joseph-Ogden    So.
Regan Kelley    St. Thomas More    Jr.
Gabby Kozlowski    Urbana Uni High    Sr.
Sarah Larson    Schlarman    So.
Megan McKee    Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    Jr.
Abigail Nielsen    Mahomet-Seymour    Jr.
Cadisen Nuzzo    Sullivan/Okaw Valley    Fr.
Susan Ponder    Tuscola    Sr.
Aliva Powers    Clinton    Sr.
Alyssa Pridemore    St. Joseph-Ogden    Jr.
Hannah Robinson    Sullivan/Okaw Valley    Sr.
Laura Seiler    Unity    Jr.
Hannah Shinew    Champaign Central    Fr.
Jazmin Smith    Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    So.
Olivia Smith    Hoopeston Area    Sr.
Sierra Steidinger    Prairie Central    Sr.
Madison Tutich    Monticello    So.
Jaki Vipond    Centennial    Jr.
Sonya Walsten    Unity    Jr.
Elizabeth Walter    Prairie Central    Jr.
Julia Welle    St. Thomas More    Fr.
Theresa Welle    St. Thomas More    Sr.
Lauren Whitehouse    Mahomet-Seymour    Fr.
Catherine Wright    Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    Sr.
Hannah Wright    Champaign Central    Jr.

Coaches Corner

Prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner contacted every boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach from conferences in our area for their thoughts about the season, which started last week. Here they are, league by league:

Big 12 Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(81 points maximum; first-place votes in parentheses)
Normal West (7)    79
Normal Community (2)    74
Champaign Central    51
Bloomington    50
Centennial    46
Danville    41
Urbana    31
Decatur MacArthur    17
Decatur Eisenhower    15
Top Returning Runners
Emily Brelsfoard, Normal West, Sr.    5
Carly Pederson, Normal C., Sr.    4
Nichole Choquette, Urbana, Sr.    1
Top New Runners
Danielle Beckstead, Bloomington, Fr.    1
Mercedes Elliott, Danville, Fr.    1
Hannah Shinew, Central, Fr.    1

Corn Belt Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(64 points maximum)
Normal U-High (7)    63
Olympia (1)    50
Mahomet-Seymour    46
Bloomington Central Catholic    39
Eureka    36
Pontiac    28
Prairie Central    16
Rantoul    10
Top Returning Runners
Alex Van Hoof, BCC, Sr.    6
Sydney Billingsley, Normal U-High, Sr.    1
Top New Runners
Erica Davies, Pontiac, So.    1
Shannan Supan, Normal U-High, Fr.    1

Okaw Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(100 points maximum)
St. Teresa (9)    99
Monticello (1)    91
Unity    74
Shelbyville    67
Tuscola    66
Clinton    46
Sullivan    39
Central A&M    30
Maroa-Forsyth/W-L    25
Argenta-Oreana    13
Top Returning Runners
Megan Burgener, St. Teresa, Sr.    6
Ivy Handley, St. Teresa, Sr.    4
Rachel Devereux, St. Teresa, Jr.    1
Hannah Houska, Monticello, Jr.    1
Top New Runners
Taylor Renefroe, Unity, Fr.    1
Kelsie Wujak, St. Teresa, Sr.    1

Sangamon Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(16 points maximum)
St. Joseph-Ogden (3)    15
St. Thomas More (1)    13
Paxton-Buckley-Loda    8
Clifton Central    4
Top Returning Runners
Alyssa Pridemore, SJ-O, Jr.    2
Theresa Welle, St. Thomas More, Sr.    2
Top New Runner
Abby Gawthorp, SJ-O, Fr.    1

Vermilion Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(25 points maximum)
Hoopeston Area (4)    24
Bismarck-Henning (1)    21
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    15
Schlarman    9
Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    6
Top Returning Runners
Megan McKee, G-RF/Chrisman, Jr.    3
Madie Brown, Hoopeston Area, So.    1
Morgan Holycross, Bismarck-H., Sr.    1
Top New Runners
Cassidy Baugh, G-RF/Chrisman, Fr.    1
Jordynn Hardy, Bismarck-H., Fr.    1
Meghan Ingram, G-RF/Chrisman, Fr.    1


Big 12 Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(81 points maximum; first-place votes in parentheses)
Bloomington (6)    73
Normal Community (1)    66
Danville (1)    65
Normal West (1)    55
Centennial    54
Champaign Central    35
Decatur MacArthur    26
Urbana    18
Decatur Eisenhower    13
Top Returning Runner
Johnny Leverenz, Danville, Jr.    9
Top New Runner
Matt DeGroot, Normal W., Fr.    4

Corn Belt Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(64 points maximum)
Normal U-High (7)    63
Pontiac (1)    55
Mahomet-Seymour    50
Olympia    33
Eureka    32
Prairie Central    28
Bloomington Central Catholic    16
Rantoul    11
Top Returning Runners
Wes Ward, Normal U-High, Sr.    5
Zac Justice, Pontiac, Jr.    1

Okaw Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(100 points maximum)
Shelbyville (9)    97
Monticello (1)    89
Unity    79
Sullivan    68
St. Teresa    61
Tuscola    53
Clinton    40
Maroa-Forsyth/W-L    27
Central A&M    24
Argenta-Oreana    12
Top Returning Runners
Andrew Hanselman, Monticello, Sr.    4
Alex Matlock, Shelbyville, Sr.    3
Jesse Galaway, Monticello, Jr.    1
Madison Velchek, St. Teresa, Jr.    1
Top New Runner
Austin Woodard, Unity, Fr.    1

Sangamon Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(16 points maximum)
St. Thomas More (4)    16
St. Joseph-Ogden    12
Paxton-Buckley-Loda    8
Clifton Central    4
Top Returning Runners
Nick Hess, St. Thomas More, Jr.    4
Hayden Young, PBL, Sr.    1

Vermilion Valley Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
(25 points maximum)
Georgetown-RF/Chrisman (21/2)    201/2
Bismarck-Henning (1)    19
Schlarman (11/2)    141/2
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac    14
Hoopeston Area    7
Top Returning Runner
Jesse Hahne, Schlarman, Sr.    5
Top New Runners
Lane Avenatti, G-RF/Chrisman, Fr.    3
Dalton Edwards, Bismarck-H., Fr.    1

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