WHS returns lots of experience
WORTHINGTON — Returning an abundance of runners who lettered last fall, including several of its top girls and boys from 2012, the Worthington High School cross country program continues to blossom, as evidenced by a total participation number of 47.
There are 15 girls, grades 7-12, who have been practicing with fifth-year head coach Ken Henkels and long-time assistant Lonnie Myrom since Aug. 12, including seven returning with varsity experience.
Henkels and Myrom are blessed with an even greater number of boys — more than twice as many — as 32 runners, grades 7-12, are competing for positions on the varsity, junior varsity and junior high teams.
Ten of those boys are returning lettermen, including three of last year’s top five runners. The girls bring back six of last season’s top seven and may compete favorably as a team contender in meets this season.
“It’s really nice to have this many kids out for cross country,” exclaimed Henkels, who has been a track and field coach at WHS for nearly 30 years. “We have good numbers in about every grade and bring back a good group of experienced varsity runners in both girls and boys.”
The Trojan boys did, however, graduate nine senior lettermen for 2012 and the WHS girls — for the first time in many years — will be without Stephanie Jaycox, who was the squad’s only senior in 2012.
The trio of Gordy Moore, Nathan Landwehr and Ian Stewart — who were varsity scoring runners for three seasons — will be hard to replace and top-notch 2012 runner Ethan Spittle, who was the Trojans’ second finisher in most meets, also graduated.
Thomas Burns, Peter Scholtes, Logan Waldner, Caleb Wede and Jake Woll also contributed to last year’s solid boys’ season as part of a large senior class and their leadership by example will be missed by Henkels this fall.
“We had such a great group of senior boys who were good leaders and hard workers,” he recalled about the nine guys who are not back. “They set the tone for us in practices and always did whatever it took to help the team, as did Stephanie with the girls. We will miss all 10 of them.”
Moore, Darling return as dual lead runners for Trojan girls
After being Worthington’s lead runners each of the past two seasons, the duo of sophomore Meredith Moore and junior Alicia Darling will still have another campaign remaining after this year.
Frequently running side-by-side throughout the entire race, Moore and Darling were consistent front runners for the Trojans in 2012, each claiming their share of individual awards, including co-Most Valuable Runner honors for the WHS girls.
“Meredith and Alicia have been our top two finishers in nearly every meet for the last two years,” declared Henkels. “They are looking good and running together at the front of the girls’ pack in practices so far this season, too. They each ran a lot of miles this summer and are a year older and stronger.”
Ariana Lopez, the team’s only senior, is back for a third season as a varsity runner and is working hard in practice, showing the same kind of determination that earned her the team’s Trojan Award last fall for her enthusiastic spirit.
Juniors Hope Reeves and Kacey Contreras lettered last year, as did sophomore Rachel Koller and eighth-grader Jessica Darling, giving Henkels a solid cast of seven returning runners with varsity experience.
Junior Olivia Ebbers, who has played volleyball rather than cross country the past two falls, is back running and will give the Trojans a boost, too. A good athlete, Ebbers has been a fine WHS distance runner in track each spring.
Eighth-graders Brianna Newman, Maria Contreras and Olivia Adams may challenge for the varsity as the season progresses, giving Henkels good depth and balance among the fourth through seventh runners.
Freshman Camila Wede, eighth-graders Kate Reeves and Aryanna Baccum, along with seventh-grader Adrianna Engler complete the Trojan roster, which Henkels says is pretty balanced all the way through.
“All the girls are working hard and getting along well,” he concluded. “Our girls will compete well this season, both individually and as a team.”
Fissiha, Luft, Jirele expected to lead deep WHS boys
Sophomore Amanual Fissiha, an individual state-meet qualifier last year, returns as the Trojan’s top boy, while senior Anthony Luft and junior Matthew Jirele also are back from stellar 2012 seasons.
Luft, a state wrestling champion last winter, ran very well as a junior in his first season of cross country, while Jirele continued to improve in his third season of varsity competition last fall as a sophomore.
“We have three really outstanding boy runners in Amanual, Anthony and Matt,” praised Henkels about his lead trio. “They each ran well in nearly every meet last year and were big reasons why we had the team success that we did.”
Indeed, the Trojans won several meets last fall, including winning the team title at the 45th annual Turkey Trot at Prairie View Golf Links in mid September.
Fissiha, Luft and Jirele were top-10 finishers in many meets last season and will likely be among the front runners in most meets again this year.
Looking to join that lead trio as scoring (top five) runners for the Trojans are several returning junior lettermen, including Oliver Wolyniec, Troy Feller, Jonah McDonald, Zach Clark and Sam Talsma.
A fine athlete, who swims in the winter and plays baseball in the summer, Wolyniec had a strong track season in middle-distance races last spring. He was on the Trojan varsity at the end of the 2012 cross country season.
Feller has put in a lot of miles this summer and is running well in practice. McDonald was selected as last season’s Most Improved Runner and continues to make progress.
“All five of those guys are tough runners,” declared Henkels. “The competition to make our top seven should help each of them get better.”
Senior Desalegn Zemenfes and sophomore Cameron Jensen are also hard-working returning lettermen and senior newcomers Spencer Grafing, Ethan Miller and Jared Solt may also push for a place on the varsity.
Grafing, who was a starter on the Trojans’ basketball team last winter, ran very well in junior high competition several years ago.
Sophomore Tyler Van Hove and junior Mitchell Schreiner are two more runners who Henkels believes has the potential to challenge for a spot on the varsity.
“We have a lot of depth among this group, which is a good thing,” summed up Henkels, who is looking forward to viewing how this season will unfold. “If we can get at least two guys to run close to our top three, we could be pretty good.”
Juniors Patrick Burns, Orissa Nitibhon and Shawn Dold, along with sophomore Scott Schneider and the freshmen trio of Sam Burns, Matt Desmith and Ben Penning provide the Trojans with even more depth.
A 10-member junior high squad of eighth-graders Andrew Olsen, Jacob Prunty, Dominic Burns, Nathan Schuck and Jackson Bonnett, along with seventh-graders Ben Rogers, Tad Stewart, Colin Smidt, Mu Paw Klee and Pwe Ku will strive to give the Trojans good teams at that level.
The Trojans are scheduled to open the season Wednesday at the annual running of the huge 17-team Wolverine Invitational at the Mountain Lake Golf Course.