Boys XC preview: Most bring back pacesetters to follow

Herald File Photos
Noah Hufnagel of Heritage Hills hustled to first-place individual finishes at both the sectional and regional a year ago and guides a team with eight returning veterans.


Scouting this year’s area boys cross country teams:

Jasper Wildcats

Last season
Collected the Big Eight Conference title and earned a runner-up sectional finish before placing third at regional and 16th at semistate.
First meet
Monday at the Vincennes Lincoln Invitational
Returning runners
Chris Backer (Sr.)
Tristan Backer (Sr.)
Cody Schnell (Sr.)
Jackson Miller (Soph.)
Drew O’Neil (Soph.)
Garrett Stout (Soph.)
Key newcomers
Eli Anderson (Soph.)
Cameron Eckstein (Soph.)
Chase Mehringer (Soph.)
John Summerlot (Soph.)
Seth Eckert (Fr.)
Notable: Early on, Jasper’s lineup situation has proven somewhat of a paradox. Six runners with varsity experience return. Yet there’s plenty of opportunity if you’re looking to break into the lineup.
That’s the reality that comes from parity, and “we definitely have some good depth, some quality depth,” coach Kevin Schipp said. Schipp acknowledged that graduating Cale Kilian, the 2015 individual sectional champ now running at Indiana State University, won’t be easy. But stepping into Kilian’s former lead role are the sophomore pair of Miller and O’Neil, who’ve been logging the necessary mileage to ascend to the head of the pack. “Just looking at how they’re training and what they’re putting into it, there’s no doubt they’re going to be most improved from last year,” Schipp said.
Schipp’s evaluation process of the rest of the lineup will likely require some more time, based on both parity and sheer breadth of options — the Wildcats have 28 runners in the program. Schipp’s hoping to find a few more guys, whether old or young, push the pace toward the front.
Quotable: “If we can get a group that can close the gap on Jackson and Drew, I think we can have a solid pack. Hopefully that’s what we see as the season goes on,” Schipp said. “Having seniors kind of close the gap on those two, and other guys in the mix, I’m thinking we’ll have a really quality season, hopefully compete for the Big Eight and move on through the tournament as far as we can. You never know. Just depends on how they progress and if they can close that gap.”

Jackson Miller is part of a deep sophomore group at Jasper, which returns three seniors as well.

Southridge Raiders

Last season
Placed fifth at the PAC meet and seventh in sectional.
First meet
Aug. 22 in a home quad meet
Returning runners
Brody Voegerl (Sr.)
Owen Roy (Jr.)
Jaffet Cruz (Soph.)
Key newcomers
Corbin Neher (Jr.)
Ethan Bell (Fr.)
Dylan Bland (Fr.)
Cameron Giles (Fr.)
Notable: From top to bottom, senior to freshman, coach Leslie Denu anticipates she’ll get a little something out of every grade level on Southridge’s eight-man team.
The lone senior — the only one in either the Raider boys or girls program, for that matter — is Voegerl, who’s been active in everything from issuing pep talks to designing a team shirt in his spare time (he also designed the team’s window stickers last season). The junior class provides both a veteran (Roy, in his third varsity season) and a newbie in Neher (a track sprinter and former football player who’s testing the longer distances). The only sophomore (Cruz) alternated with Voegerl in clocking Southridge’s top times last fall. Now, they’ll both be pushed by a pair of rookies in Bland and Giles; Bland (16:34) finished third overall in last weekend’s Wettlauf 5K in Jasper.
Quotable: “Definitely see a lot of competition within our team this year, which is great, I love to see that,” Denu said. “It makes each one of them work harder, and from day to day, especially the top runners, always want to see who’s going to beat who, and who’s going to challenge who.”

Forest Park Rangers

Last season
Secured third place in the PAC meet, fifth at sectional and 10th at regional.
First meet
Thursday at their home invitational
Returning runners
Ben Becher (Sr.)
Dustin Luebbehusen (Sr.)
Austin Welp (Sr.)
Keenan Bertges (Jr.)
Garrett Betz (Jr.)
Key newcomers
Ben Kluesner (Fr.)
Caden Eckert (Fr.)
Notable: For the Rangers to repeat last year’s run to regional, it’s all about attitude.
Coach Philip Wolf has made it clear how August workouts are closely linked to October’s postseason results, so any time Wolf hears someone utter the word “can’t,” there’s a price to pay. Drop and give him some push-ups.
Wolf hopes the good vibes start with a core of three seniors, including Becher (the top Ranger finisher at last year’s sectional in 14th) and Luebbehusen (who sped to 15th place at regional and earned a semistate berth). Betz should join the top five, and the multitasking Kluesner is also expected to pitch in as he splits time with the soccer team.
Quotable: “Our main thing is to keep improving each other by pushing each other in practice, by encouraging them as a team. That’s what we’re pushing right now,” Wolf said. “We do not use the word ‘can’t.’ Anything that’s put in front of us, we’ve got the mentality that we can do it. That’s how we’re approaching the season. We’re trying to get the kids away from that word ‘can’t,’ because that’s a life (lesson) in general. You don’t want to use that word, because you should always have the mentality that you can do it, not just give up before you even try.”

Forest Park’s Dustin Luebbehusen (center) and Northeast Dubois runners Jaydon Arnold (left) and Nathan Schnell all return this season for Ranger and Jeep teams that both progressed to last year’s regional.

Northeast Dubois Jeeps

Last season
Followed a third-place effort at the Blue Chip Conference meet by nabbing fourth at sectional and ninth at regional.
First meet
Monday at the Vincennes Lincoln Invitational
Returning runners
Jaydon Arnold (Sr.)
Jeb Knies (Sr.)
Nathan Schnell (Soph.)
Ethan Breitwieser (Soph.)
Key newcomers
Colby Stafford (Soph.)
Carter Beckman (Fr.)
Trevor Buechler (Fr.)
Pierce Brinkman (Fr.)
Notable: While the graduation loss of about half the varsity rotation dents the Jeeps just a bit, coach Ben Gessner recognizes “we’ve got two pretty good seniors” in last year’s frontrunners, Knies and Arnold. “They’re tough,” Gessner said.
Schnell was also planted in last year’s varsity mix while Gessner is eager to see what Breitwieser can do after a solid track season back in the spring. The challenge will be bringing some of the others up to speed on the Jeeps’ 10-man squad. Buechler and Brinkman have trained all summer with the returning Jeeps and Gessner expects both rookie runners to contribute.
Gessner’s not asking everyone to be able to run the same times as Knies, who logged Northeast Dubois’ best time at all 12 meets last season, including 10th place at regional and a season-best 16:31 for 24th place at the semistate. But having a similar spirit to Knies about running would prove profitable for others, the Jeep coach said.
Quotable: “If everybody could get Jeb’s attitude — like his positive attitude toward running. He’s got some goals set and he’s really ready to work and see the results. If I could get all the guys on that mindset, they could really do some good, I believe,” Gessner said.

Brody Voegerl is the lone elder in a young Southridge program as he’s the only senior in either the boys or girls programs.

Heritage Hills Patriots

Last season
Landed third place at sectional and seventh at regional after a runner-up run at the PAC meet.
First meet
Thursday at the Forest Park Invitational
Returning runners
Slade Hoffman (Sr.)
Noah Hufnagel (Sr.)
Sam Pinckert (Sr.)
Drew Priest (Sr.)
Noah Chesnut (Jr.)
Damian Coalter (Jr.)
Mitchell Hopf (Jr.)
Nick Brinkman (Soph.)
Key newcomers
Zach Gasaway (Sr.)
Elliott Buechlein (Fr.)
Notable: With the 1-2 punch of Hufnagel and Hopf alone, the Patriots should be a contender. How promising, specifically? Patriot coach Kurt Denning will have to get back to you on that one.
“The good thing with having 17 guys, any bright spot could show up at any time,” Denning said. “As far as saying who’s in top seven right now, that’s a question mark for me.”
Hoffman, Pinckert and Priest give the Pats three more seniors with experience, and Gasaway could be a wild card after posting the Pats’ third-best sectional time as a freshman before trying football for a spell and returning to cross country this year. Brinkman and Buechlein will be pulling the cross country/soccer double this fall as well.
The frontrunners firmly in place are Hufnagel, last year’s individual sectional and regional champion, and Hopf, who was routinely not too far behind Hufnagel. Last year was just Hopf’s first running cross country, and he continues to thicken the Pats’ dual sturdiness at the head of the pack.
Quotable: “Everything he wants to talk about is running. He’s really focused on making himself the best he can be,” Denning said of Hopf. “With summer workouts, he and Noah were neck and neck on every run, and it’s great when you’ve got one good kid, but when you’ve got two that can train together and push one another daily, hopefully we’ll se a big difference down the road.”



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