Pace livens at head of Cat pack

Herald File Photo
Jasper sophomore Hannah Welsh, left, Forest Park senior Nicole Rahman and Southridge junior Aubrey Main are all back this season to lend punch to the front of the pack of their respective teams. Welsh placed third at sectional last season behind another local standout, Heritage Hills junior Sienna Crews, who has secured individual sectional titles in each of her first two seasons.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Hannah Welsh just keeps gaining speed. She’s accelerating, but that doesn’t mean there’s a gulf between the Jasper sophomore and the rest of her teammates.

Welsh has some frontrunning help. And a year after Jasper placed 10 points behind sectional champion Perry Central, the Cats boast some more firepower at the head of the lineup in their bid to regain the sectional title for the first time since 2004.

Joining Welsh, who grabbed third place at sectional last season while leading the Cats in every meet, are senior Sydney Berger and freshman Tara Cassidy. Berger is a tireless worker who placed 10th at sectional, and Cassidy is new on the scene after winning the county championship as an eighth-grader last fall.

“Sydney, Hannah and Tara, those three have really been pushing each other at practice. And Hannah looks stronger than ever,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp said. “After most practices she’s running extra and just wanting more, and her strength’s really improved this year. I look forward to seeing what she can do when we start racing.”

The Cats have also been dealing with a wave of injuries, Schipp said, though there’s no shortage of further contributors to fill potential gaps.

Sophomore Luci Hulsman ran 11th at sectional a year ago, and classmate Lauren Rennie also returns as does senior Emily Uebelhor. Another option is Rachael Welsh, Hannah’s twin sister who’s running cross country for the first time.

In addition, freshmen Noelle Weyer, Grace Mehringer and Sydney Traylor help reinforce a team that’s angling to regain the Big Eight Conference title after a run of eight consecutive titles ended last year. Schipp said another priority is improving on last year’s 15th-place showing at semistate. First things first, though, in a sectional where the Cats were within reach last year.

“It’s always a competitive sectional. Our goal obviously is to win that,” Schipp said. “We were close last year but not close enough. That’s definitely one of our goals too.”

SOUTHRIDGE
Like rival Jasper, the bullet points are practically identical for the Raiders.

They’ve got a familiar leader to follow in junior Aubrey Main.

There’s a capable complementary runner in sophomore Casey Lamb, who came on strong toward the end of last season when Southridge won the Pocket Athletic Conference title before ending up sixth at sectional.

And there’s a promising freshman in Lauren Meyer, who advances the Raiders from a strong two-girl punch to a potentially dangerous unit.

“She makes this bunch a lot more competitive,” Raider coach Leslie Denu said of Meyer. “The three, during practices you never know who’s going to be the frontrunner.”

Southridge’s roster goes only seven deep but the Raiders do bring back sophomore Brittany Tretter, who ran half a varsity season last year before an injury intervened, as well as Sidney Eckert, a junior whom Denu said has elevated her endurance. A crucial addition could be Annastacia Sumbles, a transfer from Heritage Hills who placed fifth at last year’s sectional.

Sumbles is not only the team’s newest member but also the only senior. With her team still tinged with relative inexperience, Denu said she’s erring on the side of guarded confidence for now. She’s also eager to see how the talent takes shape.

“I’m really not sure what to expect. I can usually predict it a little bit, but right now with just filling out our top seven, it’s hard to tell, because they’re very young and (we have) new runners,” Denu said. “But I would like to say that I would hope we’ll have a great season, because those top three runners, if we can get the rest of the team to go with them, I think we’ll be very successful come postseason.”

FOREST PARK
Fifth in 2011. Fourth in 2012. The Rangers have crept up the sectional ladder each of the last two seasons, and the intent is for the ascent to keep rolling another notch or few.

With 13 runners in the program, the Rangers are heavy on youth, but there is a veteran to follow in senior Nicole Rahman, who’s been the top runner in the program since her freshman year when she finished fifth at sectional. Coach Philip Wolf commended senior Savanna Haas for the high mileage she accumulated over the summer, which could help counteract the absence of another senior. Sarah Brosmer, part of last year’s varsity group, is at the tail end of recovery from knee surgery and will likely be limited to JV races if she’s healthy enough to run by the end of the season.

Brosmer is still lending a leadership role, though, for a group with some rising talent. Wolf said a few freshmen are likely to step in the lineup, and Forest Park also welcomes back sophomores Sabrina Becher and Emma Fraze. Becher nabbed Forest Park’s top finish at the Pocket Athletic Conference meets and sectional last season, while Fraze was the first Ranger across the finish line in the regional.

“I think the girls team is looking up from the years past,” Wolf said. “This is one of the better teams I’ve had in the last four years now, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the season pans out.”

NORTHEAST DUBOIS
No one wearing a Jeep jersey is relaxing. And considering Northeast Dubois returns its entire team after snagging the Blue Chip Conference title and qualifying for regional, that’s exactly what coach Vic Betz wants to see.

“So many times, I see especially among girls, they get relaxed and (think) well I’ve got a top position anyway, why should I try any harder? Whether they are aware of that or not, that happens,” Betz said. “This way, it keeps everyone on their toes and they seem to push a little harder. It’s a good thing.”

Experience reigns since the Jeeps boast the largest crop of senior runners among any area team.
The two typically assuming the lead are Latesha Merkel and Lauren Betz. Beyond that, there’s a thicket of runners of comparable abilities that Vic Betz is sorting through.

“It’s going to be a swarm,” he said. “I can see two girls up front and then a swarm of Jeeps coming across.”

Seniors Rachel Breitwieser and Abby Merkley are both back alongside classmate Taylor Bauer, who’s coped with a series of injuries through her career. The junior class provides Kelli Reutman and Ashton Knies, the latter of whom will divide time with soccer.

A pair of sophomore are Hannah Wehr, who’s running for the first time, and Aubrey Knies. Vic Betz said two freshmen are also nipping at the veterans as Jessica Kahle and Maddie Laux could contend for positions.

HERITAGE HILLS
Within a modest-sized team, the Patriots have the entire spectrum of running heritage covered.

The team consists of only five runners. One of them has established herself among the state’s best, as Sienna Crews is a two-time sectional champion who tacked on an individual regional crown in 2012. The junior finished 18th at last year’s state finals.

While Crews provides visibility to the Patriot program, junior Salina Wilkerson and sophomore Hope Davis give it solvency. The pair has zero prior running experience. For now, coach Kurt Denning said their main goal is to finish a workout or race without stopping. But thanks to the newcomers, the Patriots expanded their team to five runners, the minimum number required to register a team scores in meets.

“They’re working hard, and they’re fun to have on the team. Thank God we have them, or we wouldn’t even have a team,” Dennis said.

There’s also experience on the intermediate level with two seniors. Nikki Welch has improved significantly, Denning said, as she was a fixture at every summer workout without fail. Stephanie Schaeffer also ran on last year’s team that notched a third-place showing at sectional behind Perry Central and Jasper.

Prosperity on the team level could be difficult to attain, Denning admitted, so personal progress is the mission. The Patriot coach said everyone’s got room to make strides, including Crews, who’s been nagged by injuries since last track season.

“She may be a little behind in her training, but she’s got the attitude to try to improve on what she’s done the last two years,” Denning said.

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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