Times Sports Editor
Northview's cross country teams won't be able to surprise any competitors this season, returning an experienced lineup on both the boys and girls' teams.
The girls advanced to the semi-state last year as a team and bring back the top-four runners from a team that placed second in the sectional to Terre Haute North.
The boys meanwhile are the defending conference champions and finished just one point short of joining the girls in the semi-state. Four of the top-five return for the Northview boys, which is plenty of reason for optimism.
On the flipside of that equation are a couple of question marks that linger.
The Northview girls are currently without their No. 1 runner from last year in senior Kylee Thacker, who is waiting for an injured foot to heel. The boys are awaiting their top runner from the sectional, Chris Smith, to return to eligibility.
Both are likely to miss much of the regular season, but hope to return before the string of postseason meets begin with the WIC Championship.
Northview's boys' coach, Chad Smith, believes that his team has a lot to prove this year.
One key to making that leap to the semi-state and the IHSAA State Finals, is replacing the graduated Landry Moore, who was one of the team's top competitors last year. However, Smith thinks that perhaps he's found someone to assume a leadership role.
"It's pretty early to say who has taken over Landry's role, but at this point Conor Strain has really stepped up and has taken charge of this team and has ran great so far," said Smith.
Ryan Lutes seems to have stepped into the No. 2 spot at this point of the season and ran well at the Rushville Invite on Saturday.
Eli Kirby was a part of the postseason success last year and returns for the Knights along with Earl Moody. James Trackwell and Kyle Yocom have migrated from football to try their hands at a new sport and have contributed early for the Knights.
Tanner Brown placed 59th for Northview at the Rushville. Thad Whittington will contribute for the Knights as well along with Ryan South and Christian Swan.
Committed to taking this program to the next level, Smith, a former collegiate runner, is looking for dedication at all levels.
"For us to make a run at the state finals will take a year-long commitment of seven guys to run everyday," commented Smith. "We are getting very close to getting that commitment from some guys and hopefully we will be able to in the future. We also have to have that same commitment from the Junior High level. This is my second year at Northview and we have only had four freshman runners come onto our team.
"Everyone on the team can contribute," Smith continued. " We missed the Semi-State by one point last year. Every position counts and every place counts in cross country."
The Northview girls placed eighth at last year's semi-state and the disappointment at not making the state finals was readily apparent. This year the team has even higher goals according to coach Ryand Tucker.
"The team has their eyes set on returning to the semi-state, and hopefully taking the next step," said Tucker. "The girls are being trained so we run our best come the end of season. We are taking it each meet at a time and learning from the up and downs of the meets.
The girls have to realize that having a good year last year, does not mean they will have a good year this year," added Tucker. "They will have to train hard, both physically and more importantly mentally, and come prepared to compete against the best the state has to offer because each weekend we will be running against multiple top-20 teams."
The Knights have an experienced group of runners at the top in seniors Allie True, Casandra Barnett and Thacker. That group has been important in leading the team during the early stages of the season.
"(The seniors) are constantly providing encouragement and support to help the newcomers deals with the rigors of training in cross country. They are giving tips and tricks that help with courses that appear daunting," said Tucker.
Adding to the talented Knights' lineup is freshman Alyssa Conrad, who has already shown that she's adjusting to the five-kilometer high school distance after excelling at the junior high level.
Conrad topped the Knights with a 23rd-place finish at Rushville, helping the Knights to a fifth-place as a team.
Corey Laue is a veteran runner that returns as well for the Knights and had some of her best meets in the postseason last year.
Joining the team this year are also sophomore Nicole Nelson and junior Shelby Sands, who will be lending their talents to the squad.
They seem to be meshing well with the returning runners," said Tucker. "They were right in the mix in the first two races we ran. On training runs they are right with the seniors and sometimes in front of them. They are learning how to race the 5K right now though so come the end of the season, I can see them battling for one of the top spots on the team."
The Knights have just one home meet this year, the Northview Invite on Sept. 16, but will take on some of the state's top teams in the State Preview Meet at the LaVern Gibson Course on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.