By Jeff Keeling
Daniel Boone’s boys cross country team set the highest of bars last year, capturing the school’s third-ever state championship and first since 1998. With that team’s top two runners now competing in the college ranks, Head Coach Len Jeffers could be expecting a regression, but he isn’t.
With senior Josh Routh and junior Ben Varghese expected to come close to picking up the slack from last year’s one-two punch of Adam Barnard and James Garst, and with depth galore behind Routh, Varghese and expected No. 3 runner Mitch Bronstetter, Jeffers expects the team to again be among the state’s elite.
“Continue to try to strengthen up the back end,” Jeffers said when asked what the Trailblazers needed to do in order to compete for another championship. “Compete for those spots and try to put the best seven that we can out there at the right time.
“Josh and Ben should be up there, with Mitch being number three. That gives us a good nucleus up front and we just need to work on the rest of the group trying to close the gaps and run in tighter packs.”
As 15 members of the large boys team and nearly a dozen girls completed a morning workout last week, Jeffers talked about the coming season, during which a more competitive girls team could make a run at a state berth after falling just short last year.
The girls team most likely will be paced by last year’s number one runner, Makayla Shaw, a junior. Beyond that, just two other runners from a seven-person squad return. Those small numbers made it difficult to sustain the internal competition that’s so important to a team’s fortunes in meets, but this year’s team has 15 runners.
Freshman Marley McCoy looks promising, as do fellow ninth-graders Erin Bruce and Alanna Cloud. Maria Chellah, a sophomore who finished 13th in the 400 meters at last spring’s state track meet – the highest finish by a freshman – is also trying her hand at longer distances.
“The competition among the team members should help breed competition in the meets,” Jeffers said.
Sounding like a coach who didn’t want to give away too much, he added: “I hope it’s a sign of good things to come. They’re all young and inexperienced. It’s going to take some time, but we’re excited to see where the girls can go as far as their experience and their capabilities.”
On the boys side, Routh was fourth at state in cross country, and Varghese finished 17th as a sophomore. Both were all-state track athletes in the spring, Routh in the 1600 meters and Varghese in the 3200. Both also ran on Boone’s state runner up 4×800 relay team.
“They’ve both improved some on their leg speed as well as their overall conditioning,” Jeffers said. “They’ve both had really solid summers up to this point. Things look good.”
Nick Roth and Jacob Garst, who also ran varsity at state, return as well. They should have plenty of competition for varsity spots. (Teams run seven people on varsity, and the top five’s scores count in each meet.)
“The rest of the varsity could possibly be a battle between eight to 10 guys,” Jeffers said. “It’s hard to really see until you get into the thick of it in another month or so, but there could be a really good fight for the remaining varsity spots.”
Jeffers mentioned returners Caleb Sells, Parker Chase, Daniel Johnson and Zac Branham, as well as promising freshman Chance Bowman, as among those primed to challenge for varsity spots. Boone will be pressed by Science Hill, last year’s fifth-place team at state that returns a strong core.
“They’re definitely going to be a challenge,” Jeffers said of the Hilltoppers. “They’ve really improved the last couple of years and I expect them to be right there in it. I think it speaks well for the area to have two schools that are able to compete at that level with good success.”
Senior leader Routh said it’s all about the end of the season.
“We’re all putting in the right training right now, and it might not show at first but towards the end of the season when it counts I think what we’ve done will really show.”