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So much for a rebuilding year. Area boys cross country teams had their chance in 2013 to unseat perennial favorite Carroll and they didn't take it. They are not likely to have an opportunity this year.
While the Chargers are the heavy team favorite, there is no such over-whelming front runner among individuals. But that's not to say the area lacks a top runner: in fact the area has several who expect to earn all-state (top 25) finishes.
“We have huge goals this season,” said Carroll coach Phil Yoder. “And that's to continue the program's post-season success. And improve on it.”
Those final four words are key. The Chargers return their top three runners from last year's third-place state meet team: Cameron Clements (14th at the state meet), Jacob Schmeling (24th) and Trevor Hamilton (58th). Carroll also returns another four runners who have varsity experience, along with a solid sophomore class that has improved tremendously from last year.
Typically when high school teams talk championships, a little pressure is bound to creep in. Not so with Carroll.
“These guys had a lot of pressure placed on them last year with a brand new varsity team and new coaching,” Yoder said. “The 2012 team placed second at state and had seniors for its top four. But these guys ran (last October) like they expected to win the big meets.
Indeed the Chargers did, successfully defending their Northeast Hoosier Conference, Northrop Sectional, West Noble Regional and New Haven Semi-state titles.
“Last year was a season of change,” Yoder said. “We all were learning on the job. But now we feel like we know the kids and they know our training.”
Yoder said not much will change, and that means a heavy training load all the way through the semi-state meet on October 25.
“We raced on very tired legs at semi-state last year, saving it all for the state meet,” Yoder said, pointing out semi-state finish places for Clements (9th), Schmeling (11th) and Hamilton (18th). “They got their legs back when they needed them and their state meet finishes showed that.”
Chasing Carroll will be the usual top-tiered programs, Bishop Dwenger and Homestead, both of whom have qualified for the state meet the last two years. Look for Concordia, which graduated Zach Panning, last year's runner of the year, to possibly get a state meet berth.
“We are definitely rebuilding but we have two strong front runners (Brayden Law and Spencer Scholl),” said Homestead coach Ian Wilson. “We've got some varsity experience because we were able to send our reserve team to some varsity meets last year.”
“We are taking a different approach this year,” Wilson said. “We've come out on fire early in the season, so this year we're pushing everything back, hoping to peak at the right time.”
Said Bishop Dwenger coach Eric Ade: “Our program has gotten to the point that they expect to make the state meet. This year (top senior) Greg Tippmann has as his No. 1 goal to lead his team to state.”
Tippmann and fellow senior Kevin Wuest are the top two returners for the Saints.
Among individuals, DeKalb's Mark Beckmann is the area's top returner from the state meet. Beckmann peaked beautifully last season under the coaching of Rowland Perez and finished ninth at the state meet. The performance was like getting the last word in a season-long argument between he and NHC rivals Law (63rd at state) and Clements (14th). The trio seemed to swap their finishing order throughout the season.
At the New Haven Semi-state, it was Law who was second and Beckmann third. At the West Noble Regional, Beckmann was second, Clements was third and Law 5th. At the NHC meet, it was Beckmann first followed by Clements (second) and Law (third).
Expect the same this season as well and give Beckmann credit for getting in the first word. He won the season-opening Huntington Invitational on August 23 in 15 minutes, 46 seconds. Law was second in 16:04, West Noble's Brandon Arnold third in 16:06 and Clements fourth in 16:09.
2014 Boy's XC Preview
Biggest change: The IHSAA post-season moves to a four-week schedule with all meets on Saturdays. Sectionals will be held October 11.
Top teams: Carroll (currently ranked fifth in the coach's poll), Bishop Dwenger, Homestead, Concordia.
Top runners not mentioned in story: David Ehlers (Concordia), Valentin Emmanuel (North Side), Dustin Starnes (Northrop), Roman Jennings (Snider), Deric Laurent (New Haven).