Saxony hopes to set pace in Class 1

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Saxony Lutheran certainly has a long way to go before it can start to call itself a cross country power like that of West Plains -- the Zizzers have a combined 21 state titles in boys and girls cross country -- but coming off its first state title without losing any of its top runners, the Crusaders look primed to add to their state trophy collection.

Saxony Lutheran brought home its first Class 1 state crown in the program's second year of existence after finishing fourth in its first year.

"Getting in the top 20 of the state isn't a big deal anymore," Saxony Lutheran coach Larry Cleair said. "They want to be way up there, but that's good. You have to have high goals if you're going to accomplish anything."

Saxony Lutheran should be an early favorite to repeat as Class 1 champions with three top-25 runners returning. Brandon Etzold (fourth) and Trey Maevers (sixth) finished in the top 10 at the state meet last year, and Peter Winningham finished 20th.

"It just seems like they haven't missed a beat," Cleair said of his top three runners.

Kory Mueller was 36th and Max Wieser finished 74th to round out the Crusaders' top five at the state meet. Grant Lehmann (84) and Alex Jauch (118) also competed at the state meet for Saxony Lutheran.

Maevers and Lehmann are the only seniors among this year's group.

"I think the nice thing is we have some seniors on the team, juniors on the team, sophomores," Cleair said. "It's not like we just have one group of athletes and when they're done next year we'll be in trouble."

Saxony Lutheran should have plenty of talent coming into the fold as well. Challenging for varsity positions will be a group of five freshman.

"We've got five freshman, which doesn't sound like a lot, but a couple of them may be able to start running close to varsity spots, and that's not a slouchy varsity team to step into," Cleair said.

The Crusaders are not resting on their laurels, either, with tougher competition added to the schedule. Saxony is even trying to get into the Hancock Invitational at Jefferson Barracks Park, one of the biggest meets in the state.

"I think they do have some pressure on themselves," Cleair said. "They want to run against good teams. We're trying to upgrade our schedule a little bit. In that way, they're putting pressure on themselves, but it's good pressure."

Saxony Lutheran has also been aided by facing better competition in the area, which produced seven top-25 state finishers last year. In the past nine years, there have been nine top-four team finishers at state from the area, including back-to-back top four finishes from Notre Dame.

"The better they run, the better we run," Cleair said. "If we slop around for eight meets and go to the state meet, we'll be killed. We have to get people to push us."

Notre Dame coach Bill Davis, who led Kelly to state titles on both the boys and girls side along with three other top-four finishes on the boys side, has helped Notre Dame's boys become a player on the state level.

The Bulldogs finished second in Class 2 in 2003, and followed that up with a fourth-place finish last year.

"I tell the kids we want to reload not rebuild," Davis said. "There are programs that just seem to reload."

Greg Kanneburg will lead the Bulldogs this year after finishing 23rd at the state meet last year. Matt Pfau (54th in the state meet) will be the team's No. 2 runner. Jonathan Ramsey, a junior, and freshman Logan Davis should also be key contributors. Cody Essner, Notre Dame's third-best state finisher from last year, is recovering from a leg injury and should return later in the season.

"We've had the biggest summer I've had as far as kids coming in to work," Davis said.

The Bulldogs will get the area season started Wednesday when they compete in the Murphysboro Invitational.

The Jackson Invitational on Saturday will be the start for most local squads.

One thing still missing from the area cross country landscape is an individual state champion. Etzold, who will enter his junior season, could challenge for the top spot in Class 1 this year after finishing second in the 1,600-meter run at the state track meet along with running a leg on the state-champion 3,200-relay team.

"It would be nice," Cleair said of having an individual champion. "There's always such really talented kids in every division that it's hard to be the No. 1 kid. We had three in the top 25 last year, and they worked hard and improved. There were kids in front of them that graduated, so you never know."

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