WHS CROSS COUNTRY: WHS opens up cross country season today

WORTHINGTON -- Bringing back a total of 13 lettermen from last year's successful season and gaining several top-notch new candidates, the upcoming high school cross country season appears to be bright for the Worthington Trojans, who will be runn...

Cross country team starts their warm-up run
Chris Murphy/Daily Globe The Worthington Trojans cross country team starts a warm-up run Monday in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Bringing back a total of 13 lettermen from last year's successful season and gaining several top-notch new candidates, the upcoming high school cross country season appears to be bright for the Worthington Trojans, who will be running in their first meet of the season today at the Mountain Lake Golf Course.

The annual season-opening Wolverine Invitational has been backed up to a 5 p.m. start time with the anticipated high heat index for this afternoon.

Another change for today's meet will be a shortened race for the varsity boys, who will run the same 4,000-meter course as the girls, rather than their usual 5,000-meter distance.

The girls' junior high 1,600-meter race is the first event, followed by the boys' junior high 1,600-meter run, the varsity girls' 4,000-meter race and the varsity boys' competition, which will likely start at approximately 6 p.m.

"We're ready," declared WHS head coach Ken Henkels, who begins his fourth season in charge of both the Trojan boys and girls. "We've had over two weeks of good practices and the kids are anxious to compete against runners from other schools."


That opportunity looms large at Mountain Lake this afternoon -- where hot (mid-90s) and humid weather conditions are anticipated -- as well more than 100 runners are expected in each varsity race in the 16-team event.

"This is a big meet," Henkels said. "There are a number of challenges, including some steep hills -- which along with the heat and humidity (that has been typical for this meet) -- make things tough for all the athletes, especially those inexperienced runners who are competing for the first time in such a large race."

Nine seniors, along with Fissiha and Jirele, lead solid Trojan boys' team

Inexperience will not be much of a problem for the Trojan boys -- who are loaded with both talent and experience.

"We have a lot of great guys returning," summed up Henkels. "Plus, we had several other very good runners 'fall into our lap,' which has made the potential of this squad even better."

The Trojans will certainly miss Mubarik Musa, who graduated last spring after three stellar seasons in a WHS uniform, including a state championship as a sophomore in 2009.

Musa, who won most area meets over the past three seasons, is now running cross country for the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion, S.D.

"We will miss his usual No. 1 finish card, which was always a big factor in our team score," Henkels said. "We will really miss his genuine friendly spirit and passion for running -- those were things that were such positive influences for us the past three seasons."


But, the Trojans will move on without Musa -- behind a well-balanced group which has an abundance of varsity experience.

Seniors Nathan Landwehr, Gordy Moore and Ian Stewart have been solid performers for the Trojans throughout Henkels' tenure and the coach has high praise for their dedication to the program.

"Those three have been 'rocks' for us for a long time," declared Henkels. "They helped carry the load for us when we weren't so good a few years ago, and now as senior leaders each of them will be key contributors."

Freshman Ammuel Fissiha, who qualified to run in the Hershey's National Track and Field Meet in Pennsylvania this summer, returns after a stellar varsity cross country campaign as an eighth-grader in 2011.

Fissiha was the Trojans' second finisher in most meets and may be the lead WHS runner this season.

Sophomore Matthew Jirele was No. 3 for the Trojans in several 2011 meets and also brings back a lot of experience, having run with the varsity since seventh grade.

Jirele finished second --behind Fissiha -- in a recent two-mile time trial and is coming off a strong summer with lots of miles.

Senior Ethan Spittle, who has had an outstanding track career for the Trojans, brings a bundle of potential to this year's cross country team.


"Ethan has experience as a long-distance runner, middle-distance runner and sprinter," summed up Henkels about his new fall prospect. "It's awesome to have him join us because he's so tough and he runs so easy."

Another great addition is junior Anthony Luft, who is running cross country for the first time.

A wrestler, Luft has ran well in the Turkey 10-K and Henkels like his competitive nature and believes that the addition of Spittle and Luft will more than offset the loss of Musa.

"We think we have the makings of a real good team," exclaimed Henkels. "We have at least seven real good runners and have outstanding depth to back those guys up and keep our practices competitive."

Seniors Thomas Burns, Peter Scholtes, Caleb Wede are returning lettermen and are joined by newcomers Jake Woll and Logan Waldner, giving the Trojans a total of nine senior boys.

"All nine are great kids," concluded Henkels about his seniors. "They each competed all night long in our 'dusk to dawn' run last week and have been leaders day after day in practice."

Juniors Desalegn Zemenfes and Jaron Solt, along with sophomores Oliver Wolyniec, Zach Clark, Levi Blanchard, Troy Feller, Sam Talsma, Jonah McDonald and Patrick Burns are challenging for a top seven varsity position and give the Trojans a deep roster.

A fine all-around athlete, Wolyniec was the Trojans' No. 7 in many meets last year as a freshman.


Freshmen Cameron Jenson and Scott Schnieder, eighth-graders Sam Burns and Matt Desmith, along with seventh-graders Andrew Olsen, Stewart Merrigan, Jacob Prunty and Dominic Burns complete Worthington's 29-member boys' roster.

Moore, Darling, Jaycox return to lead girls

Graduation took a heavy toll on the Trojan girls, as five 2011 letterwinners -- Mariah Haffield, Jennifer Majerus, Whitney Prins, Kari Suby and Kinzie Myrom -- finished their WHS careers last fall.

Senior Stephanie Jaycox, who was the team's No. 3 runner most of last season, returns this year and, according to Henkels, is "an outstanding leader."

Freshman Meredith Moore and sophomore Alicia Darling ran a close 1-2 for the Trojans throughout 2011 and are back for a third varsity season competing with each other.

"Meredith, Alicia and Stephanie give us a nice top three for the girls," declared Henkels. "Moore and Darling have always finished very close to each other as our lead two runners.

"Jaycox is again working hard -- coming off a summer with a lot of miles -- and has looked very good in a lot of our practice runs."

Junior Ariana Lopez and sophomore Hope Reeves also return as letterwinners for WHS and both sophomore Kacey Contreras and freshman Rachel Koller are strong contenders for a top seven varsity position.


"We have some potential with our girls and may see some improvement, as our fourth and fifth runners develop over the season," summed up Henkels, who is looking at Lopez as the team's current No. 4 runner.

"We have six middle school runners who may challenge to compete on varsity, too."

Eighth-grader Camila Wede is joined by seventh-graders Jessica Darling, Kate Reeves, Kharmen Saysirisanh, Olivia Adams and Brianna Newman on the Trojans' team which will open the 2012 season at 5 p.m. today.

Looking ahead, Worthington will host the annual Turkey Trot high school cross counry race at Prairie View Golf Course Sept. 13.

WHS letterwinners
chris murphy/daily globe Letterwinners for the WHS cross country team include (laying down, left to right) Nathan Landwehr, Ian Stewart, (middle, left to right) Matt Jirele, Hope Reeves, Ariana Lopez, Alicia Darling, Stephanie Jaycox, Meredith Moore, Desalegn Zemenfes, (back row, left to right), Ammanuel Fissiha, Caleb Wede, Thomas Burns, Gordy Moore, Troy Feller, Zach Clark, Oliver Wolyniec and Sam Talsma.

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