Times Sports Editor
The Northview Knights are hoping to duplicate last season's cross country success heading into 2009. With a number of graduation losses, including three runners who will run collegiately, the Knights have their work cut out for them with the season opener Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Course.
The girls' team graduated Kylee Thacker (Indiana State) and both CJ Barnett and Allie True, who will run at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Though Thacker was injured for most of the season, True and Barnett helped lead the Knights to a 10th-place finish in the semi-state last year.
Four members of that team return and are hoping to continue the program's success with the help of three new teammates.
Seniors Corey Laue and Shelby Sands lead the team along with sophomore Alyssa Conrad and junior Nicole Nelson.
"Being seniors and both wanting to run in college, they know they need to run their best this season," coach Ryand Tucker said of Laue and Sands. "Their leadership will be valuable to the development of the underclassmen."
The Knights placed fifth in the Brown County Regional with Sands placing 40th (22:05) and Laue in 42nd (22:09). Conrad paced the Knights with a 33rd-place (21:27).
The Knights don't have a dominant No. 1 runner, but Tucker believes his team will excel by running together.
"Alyssa being our top returner and one of the top returns in the valley will be viewed as a gauge for many area runners," added Tucker.
New to the team this season are freshmen, Meaghan Pilman and Eileen Stinnett along with junior Tori Rohrabaugh.
"Newcomers are the biggest unknowns coming into any season. With the jump in distance from 3K to 5K and going from being the oldest to now being the youngest, freshman and first year runners have the biggest area for improvement as the season progresses," Tucker said. "The three we have this season seem to be adjusting well and should be enjoyable to watch as the season progresses."
The boys' team will have to replace four of the top-seven runners that competed in the postseason last year. Ryan Lutes, Eli Kirby and E.C. Moody each graduated and James Trackwell has returned to the football field.
What the Knights can count on is their No. 1 runner, senior Conor Strain. He returns after reaching the state finals following a 14th-place in the semistate and an eighth-place at the regional.
"I hope that Conor can start where he left off last season," coach Chad Smith said. "He did a lot of smart running this summer, putting in long miles and backed off racing during the summer. Without a doubt, Conor is our team leader. He makes everyone push themselves at practice."
The task of returning to the regional and perhaps farther, will lie on the No. 2 through five runners and how they progress over the course of the season.
"We did lose a few runners, but I think that we have a few runners who will step up," Smith said. "Tanner Brown, Kyle Yocom, Ryan South, and new runner Patrick Durcholz will be running for those positions."
Christian Swan rounds out the Northview boys' team.
"We need our second through fifth runners to run as a pack," Smith continued. "We are only going to be good as our fifth runner. Our goals stay the same every year. We would like to compete for the WIC title and compete well as a team in the sectionals.
In closing, Tucker summed up what it would take for the Knights to build upon the success that the program has had in recent seasons.
"The cohesiveness of the group plays an important roll to the success of the team," Tucker said. "I believe this to be one of the biggest reasons for our success in previous seasons; when you don't want to let your teammates down, you will give that extra bit of effort. As we develop as a team, our performances will improve and we should again be one of the top teams in the southern part of the state."