Motivated Jeeps chug the extra mile

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Senior Justin Kahle helped the Northeast Dubois boys cross country team reach the regional last season, when Forest Park and Heritage Hills joined the Jeeps as three of the five teams to advance out of the sectional. While Heritage Hills graduated 2012 individual sectional champion Ben Woolems, the four Dubois County teams all return their top individual runners from a year ago.

Herald Sports Editor

The premise is so elementary.

Run more. Get better.

It’s painfully intuitive, but the Northeast Dubois boys cross country team is hoping the attention to the obvious begins to yield bigger and better returns.

“We sort of had a two-year plan that we wanted to put more mileage in, and they certainly did that,” longtime Jeep coach Vic Betz said of both his boys and girls squads. “A lot of guys put in a lot of miles this summer. It’s been real smooth so far.”

The offseason attention to training has helped trim down the number of pesky injuries that sometimes crop up after the first few weeks of training, said Betz, whose preachings have had plenty of takers. The Jeeps have 17 runners, making for one of the largest boys teams Betz said he’s had in years.

Again at the forefront should be senior Justin Kahle and junior Luke Kerstiens, who toggled back and forth as the team’s top runners last year when the Jeeps snared the fifth and final regional qualifying berth at the sectional. Betz added that from last year to this one, the widest strides of improvement have come from junior Jace Kahle and sophomore Bryce Schepers.

Senior Dylan Arnold, junior Takumi Mundy and sophomore Charles Recker add depth for the Jeeps, as does sophomore Seven Sermersheim, who moved in from Jasper.

While Betz expects Perry Central and Tell City to loom as the top sectional hurdles, he sees no reason why the Jeeps can’t improve their stance by season’s end. Same with the Blue Chip Conference meet, where Betz said his squad should be equipped to challenge Barr-Reeve, which graduated a pair of standout runners including individual state champ Connor Sorrells.

“We hope to make a dent there,” Betz said, “and certainly improve upon what we did last year.”

There’s not a senior to be found on the Wildcats’ all-underclassmen team.

That’s cool by coach Kevin Schipp. Sure, his team lacks seniority, but the Cats logged plenty of mileage over the summer and there’s an intangible from which the Cats can build.

“That’s the overall theme with both (the boys and girls) teams, is a lot of hungry runners,” Schipp said. “We are young, but they’re working hard and I like the direction we’re headed in as a team.”

There’s some urgency in that quest, added Schipp, whose team is intent on extending its postseason stay after last year’s sixth-place sectional finish left them one spot shy of qualifying for regional.

“That’s our primary goal,” Schipp said. “We should have the tightest pack that we’ve had in a long time. It’s just a matter of getting stronger throughout the season and moving up.”

The pacesetters have been a diverse trio of Clayton Traylor and Donald Bough along with freshman Cale Kilian.

Traylor has been beset with ongoing shin splints, which he’s tried to remedy by taking time off in the summer and resting every other day in the preseason. Bough, meanwhile, wasn’t in the varsity rotation last year but “made tons of improvement,” Schipp said. Kilian will ease into action after missing the first few meets as he plays with the Jasper Babe Ruth all-stars in the world series in Washington state.

That trio is flanked by four sophomores: Chris Brake, Nolan Kiefer, Kyle Knies and Caleb Dosch. Freshman Kelby Uebelhor also contends for a slot.

There was a double-edged reason that coach Leslie Denu took the first preseason practice relatively slow.

She had four athletes on her hands who’ve never run competitively before. Plus, she didn’t want to chase anyone away on Day 1 considering the newcomers comprise more than half of her seven-man team.

“The first practice was a big eye-opener for a lot of them. We kind of had to ease into it, because I didn’t want to lose (anybody) with low numbers anyway. We didn’t want to scare them away,” Denu joked.

Denu’s thrust has been on individual workouts, since experience exists atop the lineup with Chase Bland. Last year, the sophomore clocked the top time for the Raiders in each meet, and so far this year, Denu said Bland was as far along in the second week of practice as he was by the second meet last season. Senior Louis Dubon and sophomore Jayden Montgomery also ran on last year’s team.

So far, the best among the flock of newbies has been Hunter Meyerholtz, a crossover to the sport from wrestling.  

“Already the week and a half we’ve had, we’ve seen great improvements in a couple of the freshmen, and I think they’re surprising themselves,” Denu said. “It’s fun to see them grow and cut time off their times. We haven’t had this many (newer) runners in the past. It’s fun to watch them grow.”

A pair of small transactions has almost rewritten the Rangers’ philosophy for the upcoming campaign.

Two of last year’s main varsity runners have opted to focus on other sports, and combined with the graduation of Keith Hurst, the Rangers are left trying to fill three of their top five slots. Forest Park still boasts perhaps the most potent 1-2 combo in the county with senior Cody Flamion and junior Trey Dooley. But the unexpected gap in depth has changed the complexion of a team that claimed last year’s Pocket Athletic Conference crown and landed the best finish among the five local schools last year at the sectional (second), regional (fourth) and semistate (11th).

“We’re going to take our bumps and bruises,” coach Philip Wolf said. “It’s going to be a long season where we can develop and mature throughout, I hope.”

Dooley emerged last season to pace the Rangers in most meets, and the high-motored Flamion also returns but will run about half the season’s meets as he shares his time with the soccer team. Wolf also feels secure with Sean Verkamp, a senior who’s established himself as the team’s No. 3 man.

Beyond that, Wolf is still unsure of who will step forward into a varsity role. For whoever does, there should already be an established lead to follow.

“Cody and Trey’s been working really hard over the summer, and Sean has too, to make sure that they have a good season as individuals, and help the team along too,” Wolf said.

The “if” qualification hangs over the Patriots.

Senior Devon Merder can return to lead the Pats if he returns to peak cross country shape. Newcomers Logan Ayer and Dalton Selvidge can offer a real boost if they adjust to the nuances of a 5K race.

Coach Kurt Denning admits the Pats may not be the team they were last year, when graduated sectional champion Ben Woolems steered Heritage Hills to fourth place at sectional. Still, potential exists — if the Pats capitalize.

"To be honest, it’s all up in the air right now. It’s a tossup. I don’t know what some of these newcomers are going to do," Denning said. "Once they see a course and go through the pain of a race, what’s that going to do to their internal drive as far as how good do they want to get or are they going to be satisfied where they’re at?"

Merder landed a sixth-place sectional effort in 2012 in his secondary sport; Denning quipped that the basketball player “does not have a lot of miles (on the road), but he’s got a lot of miles up and down the court.” The Patriot coach applauded Merder’s drive to improve and is waiting to extract more of the ability from Ayer and Selvidge.

Denning said Ayer “has really taken off since track season,” and he’ll also split time with the soccer team. The junior has clocked a 4:36 mile and is trying to translate that speed into a longer race, while Selvidge, a freshman, has jumped in already as the team’s No. 3 runner.

Filling out the lineup are juniors Chris Miller and Dax Detzer plus the sophomore group of Shane App, Sakuma Lahee, Jacob Winkler and Logan Troesch.

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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