Runners carry elevated hopes

Jake May/The Herald
Southridge sophomore Aubrey Main, who finished eighth at last year’s regional, adds strength to a Raider team that features five seniors. State finalist Heritage Hills and Northeast Dubois also return top runners, as Jasper and Forest Park benefit from an influx of youth.

Herald Sports Writer

Last year, Kurt Denning was constantly in Sienna Crews’ ear. He’s hoping that won’t be needed this season.

Crews, a sophomore who won sectional, placed second at regional and finished fourth at semistate and 26th at the state finals last season, followed a simple mantra during last year’s regular season: run fast.

That seems to be an unfailing plan for cross country, but with the coach and standout regularly discussing different race strategies throughout the year, a more subtle approach may be seen within Crews’ maturation process.

“Last year, it was a big learning game for her,” said Denning, whose team won sectional and advanced to the state finals for the fifth time in seven seasons last year. “This year, I think she learned a lot. Hopefully (she) learned what it’s going to take, not each practice day but race day when she knows she’s going to be facing some of those better competitors.”

Crews has just six teammates, with senior Clara Laughlin and junior Annastacia Sumbles contending for the next two spots.

Seniors Emily Kern and Savannah Mundy and juniors Stephanie Schaeffer and Nikki Welch will be the others competing for a spot in the top five. Welch, however, may be held out a few races at the beginning of the year as she continues to experience sporadic foot pain. Although she’s been able to participate in the majority of workouts, Denning wants to ease her back in with the hopes of preventing a more serious injury.

“The biggest things are: We are what we are and how can we improve until the bigger meets show up?” Denning said. “We’ve got a whole lot of work to do to be near the caliber we were last year.”

The Wildcats lost their top two runners from a season ago. That’s something no cross country coach wants to hear. But Jasper head man Kevin Schipp has seen Hannah Welsh and Sydney Berger continue the standard set by the graduated Shelby Mullen and Regen Foote.

Welsh, a freshman, has led the Wildcats in most practices. Right behind her most days is Berger, a junior who along with Welsh ran a strong time in the Wettlauf 5K during the Strassenfest in humid conditions — Welsh finished at 20:38 while Berger clocked a time of 21:07.

Mary Lechner, a sophomore who couldn’t compete last season because of inflammation in her foot, is the team’s No. 3 runner most days, and freshman Luci Hulsman has improved to the point where she’s next. 

“After those guys, I see a lot of balance,” said Schipp, whose team finished 13th at semistate last year and won the Big Eight Conference for the eighth straight season. “The girls have been really competitive in practice. I can tell they’re really pushing it. It’s good to see.”

Madison Dorsam and Jennifer Lynn, both seniors, are also in the mix, as is sophomore Savannah Kerstiens.

The Raiders enter the season not lacking for expectations.

“I expect a season like last season or even better,” said coach Leslie Denu, whose team finished seventh at regional a year ago.

That proclamation can be mainly attributed to a five-member senior class of Ashlyn Bornefeld, Jayme Lindauer, Grace Maxey, Madison Mundy and Alexis Tormohlen.
Those girls, Denu said, are “a good leadership group.” Throw in sophomore Aubrey Main, who finished eighth at last year’s regional, and returning junior Olivia Maxey, and there’s reason for Denu’s prognosis.

Most of the girls participate in other sports, and because of that, Denu doesn’t have to reiterate the importance of teamwork.

What she does want, however, is to figure out how her runners stack up against one another.

“The lineup is definitely not set for the girls; we have girls who keep going back and forth,” Denu said. “I’m really ready for next week. I’m interested to see how the lineup does go and maybe some of the younger girls can step up.”

Junior Antonia Flores, sophomore Sidney Eckert and freshmen Casey Lamb and Brittany Tretter are other possibilities for the Raiders, who have seen a sport dedicated to running doesn’t necessarily equate to boredom.

Grace Maxey, new to cross country, has joked back and forth with her sister, Olivia. It isn’t uncommon for them to pick on each other. And not just when nobody else is around.

“The younger girls see that and they see it’s fun to be around cross country, “ Denu said. “It’s not an easy sport, but they make it fun.”

For a variety of reasons, including to focus on other sports, three of the top four Ranger runners from last season won’t be on this year’s team.

Hello, opportunity.

Junior Nicole Rahman tops coach Philip Wolf’s squad, which last year finished ninth at regional. This year, the Rangers feature eight girls, including five freshmen who Wolf said “can really help the team as soon as they pick up on the training method.”

The new group consists of Sabrina Becher, Nicole Epple, Emma Fraze, Brayless Graman and Chelsie Weaver.

Fraze is working to overcome shin splints, and Graman “has shown great strides in getting better and more desire to get up in the pack,” Wolf said. The coach added of Epple: “She can be a really strong runner for us.”

And Weaver, like the others, can contend for a spot in the top five.

Juniors Sarah Brosmer and Savanna Haas complete the squad.

Wolf has a good idea of what to expect from his upperclassmen and sees promise in the freshmen, including Becher, whom he coached in fifth grade.

“Once we rekindle that fire that she had back then, I can’t wait to see what she can do for me,” Wolf said.

Name tags weren’t needed when the Jeeps came together for their first practice.

They return their top five runners from last season, prompting coach Vic Betz, who’s returned for one more season after temporarily retiring last year, to feel confident heading into the year.

“I think we’re going to be pretty darn solid,” he said.

Northeast Dubois doesn’t have a senior among its nine runners, but juniors Lauren Betz, Latesha Merkel and Abby Merkley don’t lack for experience. They were the team’s top three runners a year ago. Sophomores Ashton Knies, Kelli Reutman and Shyann Seng join them in creating a group that Betz thinks should produce a fairly good time gap, keeping close to one another.

Juniors Taylor Bauer, who has a left hip injury, and Rachel Breitwieser, a former volleyball player and current sprinter in track who’s making the transition to distance running, are also candidates.

Vic Betz said the girls’ goal is to make regional as a team a year after Merkel advanced as an individual and placed 20th.

“We basically upped the effort, pushed them a little bit more in practice,” Betz said. “Last year was a growing year and this year we want to get a little bit better. So we’re going to up the mileage and push them a little bit more.”

Contact John Patishnock at

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