A run at state title No. 3

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Saxony Lutheran varsity cross country team members, left to right: Andrew Etzold, Peter Winningham, Sam Kluesner, Drew Hillis, Brandon Etzold, Max Wieser and Ross Gage. (Don Frazier)

Saxony Lutheran has the top returning Class 1 cross country runner, three returning all-state runners, four runners returning from last year's state championship team and back-to-back state championships.

The question heading into this season is not whether they can win again, but "can anyone stop them?"

"They expect to do well, but also they know what it takes to do well," Saxony coach Larry Cleair said. "We've got to stay healthy. We've got some good young runners, and we have young runners that will be part of our top five so it's not like we have five seniors. Those five, if we're healthy, we're a lot better than if we lose one or two."

The Crusaders will send a junior varsity group to the Chester Invitational on Thursday, while the varsity group will begin Saturday at the Jackson Invitational.

Defending Class 2 champion Notre Dame will begin the season today at the Murphysboro Invitational.

Brandon Etzold finished second last season as a junior, and followed that performance in the spring by winning four state titles at the Class 1 track and field state championships, including two individual titles.

"He wants to run well to begin with," Cleair said, "but he doesn't think there's anyone in Class 1 that will work hard enough to beat him. It's not one of those things where it's an idle boast. He won the mile and half-mile at the state track meet. There are a lot of good runners in Class 1. He knows he has to work hard."

The Crusaders lost Trey Maevers and Grant Lehmann to graduation, but junior Max Wieser and senior Peter Winningham both return from all-state seasons. Winningham has finished all-state each of the past two years, and Wieser also was a part of the 2004 state championship team.

Throw in a group of sophomores led by Andrew Etzold and Ross Gage who Cleair raved about last season, and the Crusaders look almost unbeatable.

In three years, Saxony Lutheran has brought home three trophies, including a fourth-place trophy in the program's inaugural season. Last season, the Crusaders finished 59 points ahead of their closest competitors.

Saxony Lutheran is trying to become just the third school to win three straight state championship since cross country made the move to four separate classes in 1998. West Plains and West Platte both have accomplished the feat. Herculaneum has the longest title streak, a seven-year run from 1977 to 1983.

"In some ways. it's kind of easy to get spoiled. Even that first year of the program, the kids got something," Cleair said. "For the running lives of [seniors] Brandon Etzold and Peter Winningham, they've always got to the state meet and ran very well as a team. I'm sure they don't quite realize there's a lot of schools in Missouri where the runners haven't had the blessings these kids have been through. But it's something they've made themselves."

While the Crusaders occasionally see competition their own size from some of the smaller area schools, Saxony Lutheran often competes against the area's bigger schools. Facing squads such as state champions Notre Dame and Potosi or top-four finishers Ste. Genevieve and Perryville helps push the Crusaders.

"I appreciate Perryville, Central, Notre Dame and Jackson so much because their athletes pull ours around," Cleair said. "There's some really good kids in the area in Class 1, but we have kids that don't want to be behind anyone in the area."

A new meet on Saxony's schedule could help show the Crusaders how they stack up throughout the state. Saxony will travel to the Linn, Mo., on Sept. 9 for a meet that is intended to showcase the top small schools in the state.

"It will be interesting to see who shows up," Cleair said. "While we really like running against the teams around the area, it's good for us to see who else is out there."

Bulldogs move up

Notre Dame Regional High School brought home its first cross country state title last season, and in order to make it two state titles in a row, the Bulldogs will have to go through another state champion in the district meet.

The Bulldogs received the news Aug. 18 they had been bumped to Class 3 and placed in the same district as defending Class 3 state champion Potosi.

"At first they were like, 'we can't do this or we can't do that,' but the only thing we may not be able to do again is win it," Notre Dame coach Bill Davis said. "We're still planning on getting on the podium. I think getting in the top four will be difficult, but the way I look at it there are two spots available."

Also in the newly formed Class 3 District 1 is Perryville, third in Class 3 last year; as well as Class 2 third-place finisher Ste. Genevieve. Cross country powerhouse West Plains also resides in Class 3.

"Everyone's picking it as one of the toughest districts in the state regardless of class, but that's good," Davis said. "You have to earn everything. That's what you want to learn in sports."

The Bulldogs are riding a three-year top-four finish run, having finished second in 2003 and fourth in 2004. Notre Dame will have to replace two top-10 state finishers Matt Pfau and Greg Kanneberg, but it returns the rest of its state group, including two all-state runners.

Sophomore Logan Davis and junior Neil Kanneberg were all-state last season, and sophomore Dillon Klaffer and senior Jonathan Ramsey also return. Ben Beussink, a junior, and freshman Wynn McClellan are in the hunt for top five spots.

"I'm really excited. We've been working hard," Davis said. "A couple of new guys have come on the scene and bolstered us."

All-state girls

No area girls cross country teams qualified for the state meet last year, although Central sophomore Brittany Moreland and Notre Dame junior Jessica Banda each finished all-state last season.

Moreland finished 16th as a freshman in Class 4, while Banda finished 22nd in Class 2.


BOYS CROSS COUNTRY

Central

Coach: Mark Hahn

* Returning starters: Dale Brannock, senior; Joey Guidos, junior; Shawn Owens, junior; Tyler Yeargain, senior.

* Other top returning runners: Cole Bradley, junior; Greg Sprengel, senior.

* Coach's outlook: "This will be a rebuilding year. We hope to have fun and improve. Those are our two goals every year."

Delta

Coach: Gordon Walton

* Returning starter: Alex Parks, junior.

* Key newcomers: Teddy May, freshman; Malachi Brooks, freshman.

* Coach's outlook: "We have several very good young runners, some of which are still in junior high. Most of our success will come two our three years down the road."

Jackson

Coach: Andrea Talley

* Returning starters: Greg Gibson, sophomore; Earl Popp, senior; Cody Green, sophomore; Blaine Davis, junior; Caleb Statler, sophomore.

* Other top returning runners: Ira King, senior; Nick Welker, junior; Nick Grieshop, junior; David Law, junior; Joe B. Miller, sophomore.

* Key newcomers: Tanner Cline, junior; Tylor Floyd, sophomore; Logan Duly, freshman.

* Coach's outlook: "The boys team has been so young over the past two seasons. It's nice to now have some juniors and seniors to lead the team. We are shooting for a team sectional cut and at the very least, qualify more runners to the state meet."

Meadow Heights

Coach: Shawn Seabaugh

* Returning starters: Terry Haffner, Joe Brown, Zack Bynum, Josh Overby, Derrick Wilfong.

* Coach's outlook: "We are a young team with many new runners. We look forward to training and becoming a major force in Southeast Missouri cross country."

Notre Dame

Coach: Bill Davis

* Last year's record: Class 2 state champions

* Returning starters: Logan Davis, sophomore; Neil Kanneberg, junior; Dillon Klaffer, sophomore; Jonathen Ramsey, senior; Richie Bohn, junior.

* Other top returning runners: Ben Beussink, junior; Geon Gyu Min, senior; Ryan Heggemann, senior; Matt Reinagel, sophomore.

* Key newcomers: Wynn McClellan, freshman; Michael Bohn, freshman; Cody Moore, freshman; Sam Schneider, freshman; David Willems, freshman

* Coach's outlook: "Win as many meets as possible, SEMO varsity and junior varsity conference championships. Never has this been done with boys varsity and JV by Notre Dame. Being defending state champs means fighting complacency. We should be as strong as the kids' work."

Oak Ridge

Coach: Jason Niswonger

* Last year's results: fourth in Class 1 district

* Returning starters: Walter Ruesler, senior; Caleb Schoen, senior; Dustin Owens, senior; Kaz Lange, junior; Ricky Wilkers, junior.

* Key newcomers: Tyler Lappe, freshman; Daniel Clark, freshman; A.J. Collins, freshman.

* Coach's outlook: "We are still in a very tough district. The top two teams in our district have finished first and third at state the last two years."

Perryville

Coach: Wes Armbruster

* Last year's record: third in Class 3, Class 3 District 1 runner-up

* Returning starters: Montana Giesler, junior; William Benline, senior.

* Other top returning runners: Kenny Stephenson, sophomore.

* Coach's outlook: "Our participation is thin as a result of a missing middle school program. With a feeder program now in place, our foundation is being set. The kids we have are going to earn a little attention come postseason time."

Saxony Lutheran

Coach: Larry Cleair

* Last year's record: Class 1 state champion

* Returning starters: Brandon Etzold, senior; Max Wieser, junior; Peter Winningham, senior; Andrew Etzold, sophomore.

* Other top returning runners: Ross Gage, sophomore; Drew Hillis, senior.

* Key newcomers: Sam Kluesner, sophomore.

* Coach's outlook: "Our top five boys are looking forward to returning to the state meet and carrying on with a tradition they have helped create."


GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY

Central

Coach: Mark Hahn

* Returning starters: Jessie Hahn, sophomore; Brittany Moreland, sophomore; Emily Ponder, senior; Veronica Schabbing, sophomore; Alyx Waterman, junior.

* Other top returning runners: Heather Deisher, junior; Brianna Egbuka, senior; Ali Yuen, sophomore; Olivia Jenkins, junior; Sarah Schneider, senior.

* Key newcomers: Jenny Huo, junior; Rachel Burchyett, junior; Charlotte Schaffner, junior.

* Coach's outlook: "We have better depth than last season. If healthy, will have a good one-two punch with Moreland and Schabbing."

Delta

Coach: Gordon Walton

* Returning starters: Jessica Kidd, junior.

* Coach's outlook: "We have several very good young runners, some of which are still in junior high. Most of our success will come two our three years down the road."

Jackson

Coach: Andrea Talley

* Returning starters: Amy Sterling, junior; Beth Barton, junior; Nicole Parrish, sophomore; Casey Hatton, junior; Mandy Craven, senior; Barbara Gillard, senior.

* Other top returning runners: Ashley Miller, senior.

* Key newcomers: Amber Crites, freshman; Mandy Kennedy, junior, Jordan Whitener, freshman.

* Coach's outlook: "Girls team as a whole is young and untested, but they are working hard so they will improve as the season progresses. If they avoid injuries, they should make it to sectionals and hopefully to state. We should have more state qualifiers this year."

Meadow Heights

Coach: Shawn Seabaugh

* Returning starters: Erica Wilfong, Abi Wissore, Jennah Hahs.

* Coach's outlook: "We are a young team with many new runners. We look forward to training and becoming a major force in Southeast Missouri cross country."

Notre Dame

Coach: Bill Davis

* Returning starters: Jessica Banda, junior; Tori Pfau, sophomore; Jessica Brandon, sophomore.

* Other top returning runners: Lindsay Boyd, junior; Kelsie Neff, junior; Katie Young, sophomore; Katie Obermark, sophomore.

* Key newcomers: Kala Longman, junior; Lauren Castleman, freshman; Emily Messmer, freshman; Abbie Messmer, sophomore.

* Coach's outlook: "Improve SEMO Conference position, improve finish at district and take a 'team' to the state meet. We should be very young and possibly improved over last season."

Perryville

Coach: Wes Armbruster

* Returning starters: Kendra Schilli, junior.

* Key newcomers: Emily Westmoreland, freshman; Evan Martin, freshman; Lea Clifton, freshman; Teresa Trome, senior.

* Coach's outlook: "Our participation is thin as a result of a missing middle school program. With a feeder program now in place, our foundation is being set. The kids we have are going to earn a little attention come postseason time."

Saxony Lutheran

Coach: Larry Cleair

* Returning starters: Deanna Dippold, junior.

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