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WHS cross country: Koller Huber return for boys; Uli, Darling lead the way for girls

By Les Knutson The Globe WORTHINGTON -- A depth-filled Worthington High School varsity boys cross country team will likely be paced this fall by a pair of returning veterans who have experienced lots of previous success as accomplished distance r...

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Worthington boys cross country returning letterwinners (front left to right) Jacob Prunty, Tad Stewart, Andrew Huber, Caleb Schreiber and Azael Rodriguez (back Left to right). Kyle Janssen, Stewart Merrigan, Ian O Donnell, Blaine Doeden and Christian Lietz.(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

By Les Knutson

The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- A depth-filled Worthington High School varsity boys cross country team will likely be paced this fall by a pair of returning veterans who have experienced lots of previous success as accomplished distance runners.

Back again for the Trojans are junior Andrew Huber and sophomore Adam Koller, who each earned honorable mention All-Conference honors last season in the large-school division of the Big South. Both Koller and Huber are coming off of stellar seasons on the track last spring and will utilize their continued growth and maturity to lead a WHS squad which has an abundance of numbers.

“We have a great group of boys,” declared second-year Trojan head coach Cory Smidt. “We have great leadership and these guys work hard, having put in a lot of miles this summer.”

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Joining Huber and Koller as Trojan veterans expected to contribute at the varsity level this fall are seniors Jacob Prunty, Jackson Bonnett, Stewart Merrigan, Ian O’Donnell and Kyle Janssen, along with juniors Blaine Doeden, Davis Moore and Tad Stewart. Sophomore Christian Lietz, freshman Jordan Melendez and eighth-grader Grant Pederson are also on Smidt’s early-season varsity roster.

“These are our top guys right now,” Smidt said. “There may be others who will come along as the season unfolds. We have a total of 46 boys in grades 9-12 and then we have a great bunch of about 25 middle school boys, giving us right around 70 kids total.”

Prunty, who also excels in wrestling and golf, has been a Trojan scoring runner for several seasons and is providing exceptional leadership as he strives to run up near the front with Koller and Huber. Lietz and Melendez each displayed distance-running talent on the track last spring.

“Jacob, Christian and Jordan are each really running very well in practice and have the potential, along with Adam and Andrew, to give us a strong top five.” said Smidt, who also likes the progress shown by Bonnett, Doeden, Merrigan, Moore and Stewart.

“We really have a nice all-around group with good balance and depth,” summed up Smidt. “I think these guys are going to be really competitive as a team this fall.”

The season for the Trojans begins Friday with the 12-team Canby Twilight Meet, beginning with the junior high races (2,000 meters) at 6:30 p.m. The 5,000-meter varsity boys race is scheduled for an 8:15 p.m. start time on the illuminated Canby Golf Course.

“It’s really a neat meet as the varsity guys get to run as it’s just getting dark,” said Smidt, who is being assisted by Lonnie Myrom (29th season) and Paul Barduson. “It’s a fun experience for most of them.”

The Trojans will host the Turkey Trot on Sept. 14 and this year’s Big South Conference Meet is Oct. 17 at St. Peter.

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GIRLS While the Trojan girls do not have the high numbers that the boys have, there will still be plenty of intrasquad competition to make the WHS varsity with 25 runners participating.

Leading the contending group for the girls is sophomore Sena Uli, who placed high in several meets as a freshman last fall before being hindered by shin splints later in the season.

“Sena is running well in practices and has the potential to have a great season this year,” said Smidt, who likes the overall balance of his returning group, which includes an experienced crew of freshmen. “We have a good bunch of ninth-graders.”

Seniors Jessica Darling, Brianna Newman and Maria Contreras are all back with cross country experience and are joined by Uli, sophomore Hailey Cauwels, eighth-grader Jenna Hoffman and the freshman quartet of Miranda Thier, Liz Spiegelhoff, Brynne White and Nedoh Gyi on the early 10-girl varsity roster.

“Like with the boys, there may be several others who will show improvement and challenge the current leaders for varsity positions,” exclaimed Smidt, who really likes how the girls approach practice and strive to get better. “They are an intelligent group and have been bringing their times down, which is great to see.”

Darling has been a consistent scoring runner for the Trojans for several seasons. Newman, Thier, Spiegelhoff , White and Hoffman each contributed to Worthington’s varsity performances last year. Contreras, an accomplished gymnast and a fine all-around track and field athlete, returns to WHS cross country after not running last fall.

“I like how practices have gone so far with the girls and am looking forward to watching them compete at meets,” summed up Smidt. “I think that our finish order may rotate from meet to meet, which is a good thing.”

Running 5,000 meters for the second year, the varsity girls (limit of 10) are scheduled to toe the starting line at 7:45 p.m. Friday night at Canby.  There will be junior varsity or JV races for both girls (6:45 p.m.) and boys (7:15 p.m.) in between the junior high and varsity races.

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WHS girls cross country team (front left to right) Elizabeth Spiegelhoff, Sena Uli, Jessica Darling and Jenna Hoffman (back left to right) Tj Cham, Nedoh Gyi, Brianna Newman, Brynne White and Maranda Thier.(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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