By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
There is a youth movement happening concerning area girls cross country teams. Just four senior letterwinners return to Ashtabula County teams.
That doesn’t mean, however, there is a dearth of talent or a severe lack of experience.
Here is a team-by-team look at the area’s squads.
Joe Gerics takes over a Spartan team devoid of seniors. He does, however, inherit five returning letterwinners.
In order for Gerics’ crew to be successful, they have to maintain their health and develop as runners.
“Remaining healthy is a must,” Gerics said. “We have a solid core of runners and need to focus on getting our fourth and fifth runner to close the gap with our first through third runners.”
Returning to the Spartans are juniors Alexis Millard and Keeley Cole and sophomores Alyssa Chadwick, Jessica Thompson and Christa Oxley.
Joining the program this year are juniors Dani Heinonen and Justice Sprinkle and freshmen Danielle Hall and Kayla Misic.
Without a league championship to shoot for, the Spartans will direct their attention to the postseason.
“We are not in a conference so we will be focusing on advancing our runners from districts to regionals.”
Just two seasons removed from having less than a full team, Steve Hill’s program is not only growing, but thriving.
“This team is loading with talent but short on experience,” Hill said. “If they would decide to take cross country serious, they could be dangerous. Only time will tell. We want to be more competitive at the All-County Meet and district.”
Returning for the Warriors are sophomores Rebekah Simmons, Shelbie Sporcich and Savannah Spring.
Joining their ranks are juniors Justine Bunnell, Kate Crooks, Madelaine Smith and Sierra Stadalsky, sophomores Angel Newman and Sommer Woods and freshmen Ciarra Horton, Taylor Roberts, Mia Roncone and Andrea Zuccaro.
The Warriors will spend one last season without a conference, but are excited about the prospects of joining a league next fall.
“We’re looking forward to being in the All-American Conference next year,” Hill said.
The Eagles return four letterwinners to the team, but two of them can run with the lead pack in nearly every race they enter in senior Hailey VanHoy and junior Emily Deering.
Those two will be charged with showing the younger runners the way.
“Our team leaders must run consistent and help develop our younger runners,” coach Matt Deering said.
Juniors Julia Hanchosky and Kayla Nieset also won letters a season ago.
Joining the fray this year will be freshmen Emma Hanchosky, Kaylee Thomas, Holly Engel and Brianna Nichols.
The Premier Athletic Conference will be a fun race to watch.
“Many great coaches and teams this year will make for a competitive season,” Matt Deering said.
Grand Valley coach Kurtis Fisher has just five runners in his program, but four of them have at least a full season of varsity experience under their belts.
“I have young but experienced girls coming back and I am excited to see how we move forward,” Fisher said.
Returning for the Mustangs are senior Tylor Whitely and sophomores Jessica Finley, Hannah Gage and Lauren Harrison.
Joining the team this season is freshman Leah Lynch.
Finley has a chance to be the Northeastern Athletic Conference champion. The remainder of the Mustangs also have a chance to make some noise.
“I feel Jessica will be strong again this year and we have some girls rising to the challenge to move up in the pack,” Fisher said.
Coach Steve Locy’s Falcons are the most experienced team in Ashtabula County with nine letterwinners returning to the team.
Back with the team in 2013 are top runner Colleen O’Connor, a senior, juniors Hannah Cole, Shannon Perkins, Deanna Comp, Delaney Giantonio and Jessica Stranman and sophomores Courtney Fularz, Leah Kingston and Lauren Buzzard.
“Finding runners to step up behind Colleen O’Connor (is a key to our success),” Locy said. “We have some girls with potential and who are athletic they just have to work to be a good runner. So much depends on girls giving one hundred percent and staying healthy.”
Joining the team this season are seniors Katie DeVivo, Sarah Brook, Samantha Burnett and Bernadette Geraghty, junior McKenzie Wilber and freshmen Samantha Kingston and Alexis Pacholke.
The AAC will be a tough conference for the Falcons.
“Girard is one of the top teams in the state and has their top three girls returning,” Locy said. “League is tough, but I hope to challenge how the girls will respond.”
Senior Karen Barrientos, who has the potential lead any race she runs, heads a group of five returning letterwinners for coach Christina Powers’ Dragons.
Joining Barrientos as girls who will have to lead the team include juniors Carlie Watt, Abby Licate, Megan Abrams and Cassidy Mollick.
“We will use the experience and past successes of our returning letterwinners and combine it with our new members of the team who bring young talent and work ethic to gain new success,” Powers said. “We need to focus on closing the gap between the times of the girls and keeping them healthy and training well.”
Looking to make an impact this season are juniors Tori Cox and Kaitlynn Mayberry, sophomores Krista Severe, Kristen Steed and Erika van’t Veer and freshmen Abbie Volpone and Shyanne Cooper.
Powers and the Dragons wish to repeat as champions at the All-Ashtabula County Meet and improve upon their finish at the 2012 PAC Meet.
“We hope to continue to hold the All-County title,” Powers said. “We want to move up from our third place standing in the PAC. We also want to place better in Districts. We are looking toward the end of the season to have success as a team and individually at the regional and state level.”
Depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person, the Beavers either have a lot of experience returning or they have lost a lot of experience from their 2012 incarnation.
Chris Basich seems to be a glass-half-full coach with five of his 11 letterwinners returning to the squad in seniors Melissa Rodewald, Julia Krauss and Stephanie Page, junior Becca Martin and sophomore Katie Durisin.
“We have an experienced senior class and also have some strong younger runners to back them up,” Basich said. “Standouts Stephanie Page and sophomore Katie Durisin both qualified for regionals this past track season in the distance events, so we’ll be looking to them to lead the charge.”
There is a plethora of options after those first five for the Beavers, including juniors Alyssa Catalano and Bailey Baker, sophomores Kirsten Szynaloski, Emily Lupica, Danielle Brown and Alyssa Brown and freshmen Christine Knilburn, Kaylee Baker and Katie Page.
Basich wants to finish in the top three at the PAC Meet and trusts that his experienced and inexperienced runners will mesh well enough to make that happen.
“We placed fourth last year and look to improve on our finish this year,” Basich said. “I believe our younger runners will step up this year to help our strong senior class.”
The following schools did not return information sheets sent to them in July:
Madison, Perry and Pymatuning Valley.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.