With seven letter-winners coming back on the girls’ team and eight returning for the boys’ team, Highland cross country coach Shawn Wilhelm has plenty of reasons for optimism heading into this year.
The girls return seniors Jenna Brown and Laura Spearman; juniors Olivia Longhenry and Sophia Thompson and sophomores Clarissa Dudgeon, Liz Jensen and Morgan Wilhelm. While they graduated Jena Buchholz, Brianna Dado and Lydia Morgan, they have some newcomers ready to step up and make an impact.
“There are four freshman girls that are looking to find a spot on the varsity team this year,” said coach Wilhelm. “Brooklyn Geiger is leading the pack of freshmen and is consistently running at the front of the overall pack during practices. Madison Cecil, Sami Trusler and Annie Bailey are also looking to contribute.”
Wilhelm noted that the team also can rely on the experience of Spearman and Thompson who both have run at the regional level. However, he added that it could be tough to move up in the league standings, as only four of the top 21 placers in the Blue Division have graduated.
“Fredericktown returns a very solid group of girls from last season’s championship, but Centerburg, Highland, Mount Gilead and Northmor are all closing the gap,” he said.
The boys are in much the same boat, combining their returning experience with a talented freshman class. Back are seniors Tyler Bowen, Christian Buchholz and Jimmy Tebbe; juniors Nick O’Bryant and Jacob Serio and sophomores Chandler Bumpus, Collin Kipp and Dalton Lee.
“The big addition for this season is the freshman class,” said Wilhelm. “There are 10 of them and eight were part of the middle school boys’ team that finished the regular season undefeated and won the COAL meet last season. They also ran at a middle school state meet and finished second overall. Branton Howard and Bailey Damron were the top two runners coming from the middle school team, but are closely followed by Zach DeBord, Bruce Jordan, Alex McCafferty, Christian Miller, Bode Sardinha and Zach Wetzel.”
With a deep and talented team, Wilhelm is hoping to return to the top of the MOAC and district and, hopefully, make the team’s first return to the state meet in some time.
“The Blue Division race could see many regional qualifiers and state qualifiers at the front of the race,” he said. “Highland, Fredericktown and Mount Gilead look to be the top three teams competing for the team title, with Cardington, Centerburg and Northmor not far behind.”