Bevy of newcomers creates optimism on course

Krista Hall/The Herald
Forest Park junior Cody Flamion will once again split time between cross country and soccer, helping the Rangers try to improve upon their 16th-place showing at last year's semistate. Forest Park returns three of its top four runners, while Jasper and Northeast Dubois feature young teams and Southridge and Heritage Hills each boast a few experienced upperclassmen.

Herald Sports Writer

Philip Wolf has a message: Don’t let the first week or so fool you.

The Forest Park boys cross country coach, whose team finished 16th at semistate last year, won’t have many noticeable concerns. At least after the first few weeks of the season, when his five strongest runners will all be healthy.

Until then, “we’re going to take our lumps on the head from the very beginning,” he said.

Forest Park loses just one senior and returns senior Keith Hurst, junior Cody Flamion and sophomore Trey Dooley.

Hurst and Dooley have run so often Wolf doesn’t remember either of them taking a day off. The entire summer.

“It’s the first group of boys I’ve had since I’ve been here that have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly,” Wolf said. “I think the rewards will be there for them in October.”

It’s common for the two to couple their typical 6 a.m. workout with another run in the evening. Flamion usually joins them for the predawn run, but then the two-sport competitor gets his extra work in during that day’s soccer practice.

Like last season, Flamion will miss a handful of meets when conflicts arise with soccer matches, but he should regularly run near the front.

Then there’s freshman Clayton Meyer, and Wolf said “we expect big things from him. He’s constantly up front, pushing guys.”

Junior Conner Bolte is expected to take the fifth spot after he recovers from shin splints. Wolf is hopeful he’ll be back by the end of the month, saying, “Once we have our top five, we should be doing pretty good.”

Seniors Austin Haake and Ben Kitten, junior Sean Verkamp and freshman Carson Haake can compete for the fifth spot, even after Bolte returns.

“These nine guys, they learned last year that a lot of hard work will get you results by the end of the year,” Wolf said.

Kyle Jahn and Audrey Werner weren’t lying when they told Kevin Schipp what to expect from the largest freshman class Schipp has seen in his decade as Wildcat coach.

Jahn and Werner, who oversee Jasper’s respective middle school boys and girls programs, relayed to Schipp that the incoming runners are hard workers. The 12 freshmen haven’t disappointed.

“They’re working hard,” said Schipp, whose team finished seventh at regional last year. “I was told before they came in they’re hard workers. The middle school coaches just said they have a good work ethic and you’ll get a lot out of them.”

Chris Brake, Gabe Grow, Nolan Kiefer, Seven Sermersheim and Holden Weidenbenner are some of the newcomers capable of challenging for a spot near the front, which is where junior Jaron Herbig has been much of the preseason. “He’ll definitely be one of our contributors,” Schipp said.

In sophomore Clayton Traylor, who Schipp said has been leading the Wildcats in most practices, and senior Austin Doersam, the Wildcats return just two varsity-experienced runners, though seniors Jacob Turner, Matthew Summerlot and Chance Schmitt are also contenders.

As for that group of newbies? They haven’t caused Schipp to change his approach.

“It’s the same no matter if you have experienced runners or freshmen,” he said. “I always approach it every day: It’s about getting better. I tell the kids the key to getting better at cross country is consistency. You can’t work hard one day or one week, you have to work throughout the season.”

Seniors Cody Blessinger, Landon Boehm and Wayne Dean lead the Raiders, who finished eighth last year at sectional.

Blessinger and Dean are four-year runners, with Boehm in his third season.
Junior Louis Dubon, sophomore Bryce Voegerl and freshmen Chase Bland and Jayden Montgomery will provide a push. Coach Leslie Denu tabbed Bland as the Raiders’ frontrunner.

“He definitely caught our eyes as a sixth-grader, and moving up, he has had a lot of success,” Denu said. “He’s one of those kids you enjoy having on that team. You never hear him complain and he’s always asking what can I do to get this certain time. Even as a freshman, he has some leadership.”

As for everything else? Stay tuned.

“I just think that first week is going to be a surprise for us, because I don’t know where all the boys are going to fit into the lineup,” Denu said.

Vic Betz hesitated to make sure he wasn’t just making up words.

“We’re very, very young,” Betz said, “probably the youngest team we’ve had in umpteen years.”

In his next breath, the coach wandered aloud about the definition of “umpteen.”

While he wasn’t sure about the meaning, what caused him to use the word wasn’t a mystery.

The Jeeps are young. They boast just a single senior, Jalen Seger. And for Betz, who’s back for at least one more year after temporarily retiring last season, he will rely on a mix of inexperienced runners and newcomers.

Seger, whom Betz described as “sort of a silent leader but he just works his tail off and does a good job,” is expected to lead the Jeeps. Junior Justin Kahle, who impressed Betz last season in track, and sophomore Luke Kersteins should push Seger for one of the top spots.

Takumi Mundy, a sophomore who was born in Japan and ran track for the Jeeps last year, will probably also be in the mix, along with sophomore Calvin Sander, who’s benefitting from a summer workout regimen that has increased his strength and stamina.

Junior Dylan Arnold experienced a growth spurt over the summer and can compete for a spot, and freshman Brady Hobson is also a possibility.

“They came to me instead of me running them down,” Betz said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm.

“They work very hard. I think we’ll see a lot of improvement as the season goes on.”

Kurt Denning doesn’t want to have to wonder again how senior stalwart Ben Woolems would have run if healthy.

Woolems paced the Patriots in the majority of their meets last year, then sat out the postseason with a foot injury.

“I thought he had a legitimate chance of placing high at semistate and possibly making the state finals,” said Denning, whose team finished sixth at last year’s sectional.

Woolems’ training has progressed to the point that he shouldn’t have any such problems this year, even after sustaining a hip injury during track season earlier this spring.

Senior Kane Harpe and junior Devon Merder, both of whom qualified for regional last season, should hover near the front with Woolems.

“I think they know it’s going to take a little bit more work,” Denning said of Harpe and Merder, “and right now they’re looking pretty good.”

Seniors Brandon Bradley, a newcomer, and Tyler Hoppenjans have both displayed signs of improvement in preseason practices.

Beyond that, any number of Patriots can jostle for positions, including seniors Nolan Brinkman and Graham Park and sophomores Dax Detzer, Chris Miller and Zach Rice.
A few Patriots have a lot of experience, or some. Others possess none. But they all have something in common.

“I feel that again, we’ve been working well, seeing some improvement in a lot of the individuals,” Denning said.

Contact John Patishnock at

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