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Worthington boasts experienced CC team

WORTHINGTON -- Having put in more than a dozen days of training in practice, the Worthington High School girls and boys cross country teams will join nearly 20 other schools this afternoon, competing in the huge Wolverine Invitational at the Mountain Lake Golf Course.

Following a 3:30 p.m. start for the junior high races, the girls' varsity meet begins at 4 p.m., with the 5,000 meter boys' varsity event running after that. The girls' varsity runners will cover a 4,000 meter distance. 

"After practicing for more than two weeks it's nice to have that first meet to look forward to," Trojan head coach Mike Traphagen said. "We have a good mix of experience with both our girls and boys, so we are optimistic that we will have some good individual performances and also strive to produce a couple of competitive team scores."

Gerber paces girls

Sophomore Kaitln Gerber is a three-year letter winner for the Trojans and is expected to have another strong season. As a freshman last fall, Gerber was a top 10 finisher in six of WHS's 10 meets and clocked times under 17 minutes in eight of those meets.

"She is a proven distance runner and a tremendous competitor," praised Traphagen. "Kaitlin will be our lead runner, but we have several other nice runners that will challenge each other and help our team compete well."

Sophomore Allison Jaycox earned the team's Trojan Award last season for her outstanding effort and dedication. She has earned a pair of varsity letters, as has sophomore Deann Naab and senior Angela Lowe --- both of whom ran close to Jaycox in several meets in 2006.

Lowe was last year's Most Improved Runner in the girls' program.

Freshman Rachel Lopez and eighth-grader Mackenzie Gerber each competed in a pair of varsity meets at the end of last season and will look to contribute in bigger capacities this year.

Mackenzie Gerber was the second Trojan girl -- behind big sister Kaitlin -- to enter the chute at last year's Section 2AA meet.

Eighth-graders Jennifer Majerus, Kinzie Myrom and Heather Loy are all back for a second-year of cross country competition and will join first-year sophomore Junuen Velasquez, along with four seventh-graders on the Trojan 14-girl roster.

Boys return six seniors

The Trojan boys graduated their top runner from last season, as Brian Juber completed a fine WHS cross country career.

But with six senior letterwinners returning, Traphagen has a good stable of veterans who know how to push each other, which could make WHS a strong team as the season progresses.

"We have good kids that work hard in practice and have fun competing at the meets," said Traphagen. "If each of them continues to improve and we can keep our 'pack' together, we can develop into a good team."

Those returning six seniors are Okuich Abella, Alex Stewart, Tim Zaske, Travis Pedersen, Alex Myrom and Caleb Fellows.

Abella, who lettered in cross country for the first time last fall, was WHS's second runner in every meet. He could be a force on area cross country courses in 2007.

Stewart was named last year's Most Improved Runner and was the third Trojan finisher in most meets.

Zaske, like Stewart, is a three-year letterwinner in cross country and also had a strong track season.

Pedersen, who is running cross country for a sixth year, had a tremendous track season in 2006 as a sprinter and triple jumper. He earned the Trojan Award in cross country last fall for his effort and dedication.

Myrom, who is also running cross country for the sixth year, has showed steady improvement as a distance runner. He ran well as a miler last spring and could have a break out year this fall.

Fellows earned his first varsity letter last fall, after competing in every varsity race for the Trojans.

"Myrom and Pedersen are in their sixth year and both Zaske and Stewart are running cross country for the fifth season," stressed Traphagen. "That really gives us a lot of good experience."

A seventh senior -- German foreign exchange student Yannick Elens -- is running cross country for the first time, as are sophomores Aaron Grafing and Michael Harberts.

Freshmen Ian Fleace, Shane Pedersen and Zach Von Holdt each have a couple of years of junior high experience under their belts and will be joined by six new incoming seventh-graders on the 18-member Trojan boys' team.

Turkey Trot is Sept. 13

Two changes will happen to the Trojan cross country program this year.

The first different look will be a date change for the long-standing Turkey Trot Invitational, which began in 1968 and has always been held on Turkey Day -- Saturday. But this year, the 13-team event will take place two days earlier, on Thursday, Sept. 13 -- again at Prairie View Golf Course.

"With so many other things going on -- including the Turkey Day 10-K -- on Saturday morning, we just thought that going on Thursday might be a better choice," explained Traphagen about the change. "Most of the same teams are still coming and we know that it will be a great meet."

The other change for the Trojans is the move from Section 2AA to Section 3A. Worthington will run with most area teams in that meet at Adrian Oct. 25.

"We will be running against smaller schools," said Traphagen. "But many of those have outstanding programs, so the compettion at that level will still be exceptional."