Heritage Hills returns many for cross country

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Seniors Wyatt Koenig and Owen Rahman figure to play a big part on the boys side of Heritage Hills’ 2020 cross country team. Sophomore Devin Toy could do the same.


LINCOLN CITY — Heritage Hills cross country coach Kurt Denning isn’t in the prediction-making business. He prefers to let his runners do the talking, and their performances spoke volumes last year.

Both the boys and girls teams qualified for the regional meet, and many experienced runners return from a year ago.

Heritage Hills sent senior Katie Winkler to semistate as an individual, and she ran a 21:25.7, finishing 74th overall, and Denning would like to think she can get back there this year based on what he knows about her.

“According to the logs she’s been sending me, she’s put in some work this summer, a little more than she has in the previous years, I think,” Denning said. “I know she said she’s excited about the season, and if an athlete’s saying that, that’s saying that they’re willing to put in the work and goals are high for them.”

Denning thinks both Winkler and junior Michaela Gogel will definitely be part of his female top five, but some younger runners look to figure in to playing a big part of the team in sophomores Bridget Flannagan, Mia Sanford and Halle Jordan. Junior Caitlynn Schipp dealt with some hip problems for much of last year, but she’s coming back in 2020, as is fellow junior Lauren Sisley. His guess is that Flannagan, Sanford and Jordan will join Winkler and Gogel in the top five.

The boys won last year’s Southridge Invitational, and Denning is hoping they can build off of some of the successes they had last year. The male runners finished in fourth place at sectionals, just like the girls did. Eli Wilson won’t be back for his junior year, but sophomore Pierce Lashley returns.

It all starts with a trio of seniors that is key to the success of the Heritage Hills boys team. Denning expects Elliott Buechlein will be his top runner on the boys side, while Wyatt Koenig and Owen Rahman also figure to be among the team’s top four runners.

“It’s definitely going to take those three,” Denning said. “So, if the team’s going to do something, they’re going to have to lead — whether it be by example or verbally. And that’s what I’m hoping for is that they can verbally, really work on these younger classmen in a positive manner and get them to say, ‘Hey, you can do it even when your body’s trying to tell your mind you can’t. You can do it,’ rather than it all coming from us coaches.”

Denning added that he’s expecting things out of Buechlein because he’s put in the time and effort based on the logs Buechlein has sent him, while Lashley could possibly surprise people. The question is who will join those four in the team’s top five. He speculates that sophomores Elliot Rahman or Devin Toy could round out the top five. Denning wondered if Landon Marshall could sneak into the top five, or if there’s somebody else who comes out and fills in that fifth spot.

He met with his runners for the first time on Wednesday, and noted his numbers will be down a bit. Denning’s not sure how closely they’re going to be able to run with one another, but the times his boy and girl runners ran looked promising for this time of year. He added those times will have to be improved upon for the sectional and regional meets, but liked what he saw from the majority of his runners.

Heritage Hills is set to begin its 2020 cross country season Aug. 20 at the Forest Park Invitational, and Denning wants to know how improved his runners are at the start of this year compared to the start of last year. He added that he’ll then have an idea of how far his runners can go individually and as a team.

“All I’m going to ask is they go compete as hard as they can that particular day,” he said.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com