By VINCE PELUSO
Last year was another strong season for area boys cross country runners.
Edgewood’s Chris Lemay qualified for the state meet and there was a plethora of solid runners and teams throughout the area.
Many of those runners, headlined by Lemay, return for what should be another exciting year of competition.
The following is a breakdown of each team in the Star Beacon’s coverage area and what each coach thinks about their respective team’s chances.
While the word rebuilding gets thrown around a lot in sports, it is overstated.
But for the Spartans, to say 2013 is a rebuilding year might be an understatement.
Under first-year coach Joe Gerics, Conneaut has just two runners this year — juniors Jacob Edwards and Levi Stewart.
Despite small numbers, Gerics is exciting about trying to build up the program behind those two.
“We are trying to rebuild our boys program,” he said. “I am thrilled to have two new runners who show great promise in their running ability.”
With no conference and no full team, Gerics said the focus of this year is getting his two runners through the district meet.
“With not having a full team or being in a conference, we are focusing on advancing through districts,” he said.
The Warriors are looking for another strong season under the leadership of coach Steve Hill, in his 20th season at helm of the Warriors boys program.
There is plenty of returning talent this season led by the aforementioned state qualifier Chris Lemay and his twin brother, Josh.
“We need to build off the experience we have gained over the last two years,” Hill said. “Making it back to regionals last year and many going to watch Chris run at have fueled a fire to get back to regionals and make a run at qualifying to state.”
Also returning for Hill are senior Cory Stewart, juniors Noah Morgan, Zak Nunisto and Tyler Pocsics.
Hill said he is looking for leadership out of this year’s team.
“We need to gel as a team and find a leader among them,” he said.
There is also plenty of depth behind the six returning lettermen as the Warriors also have six freshmen and four other runners who didn’t letter last season.
This will mark the final season Edgewood runs as an independent as the Warriors enter the All-American Conference in the spring of 2014, something Hill said he’s excited about.
“(We’re) looking forward to being in the All-American Conference next year,” he said.
The Eagles lose just two lettermen from last year’s squad as coach Matt Deering returns for his second season at Geneva.
He will have a wealth of experience this year led by seniors Andrew Hanchosky, Zach Watts and Jeramiah Allen.
Deering said his team has big goals for the upcoming season and to achieve them, they’ll have to work hard day in and day out.
“We must ‘sell out’ and give maximum effort every practice,” he said. “Our young men have goals this year which require leaps beyond last year’s PRs (personal records).”
Also back for the Eagles are Darren Haydu, sophomores Derek Studer and Jacob Prokap.
Deering said he’s looking forward to seeing what Geneva can do in the Premier Athletic Conference.
“We look forward to the opportunity to run against some of the best programs in Northeast Ohio,” he said.
The Mustangs are looking at an extremely young team for the 2013 season under 10th-year coach Kurtis Fisher.
GV returns just two lettermen, both of whom are sophomores — Joey Godfrey and Craig Anderson.
“How well the young kids come along will determine our success as a team,” Fisher said.
The rest of the Mustangs are comprised of freshmen — Aaron George, Ryan Grimm, Jack O’Neil, Tim Steimle and Seth Dillon.
Fisher said he’s looking at 2013 as a year to set the program up for success in the future.
“I hope to have the boys ready to compete at a high level and foresee positive moves forward for the program,” he said.
Jefferson returns three lettermen from last year’s team under the direction of coach Steve Locy.
Locy has a strong idea who his top runners are — senior Steven Houser and junior Brandon Scribben — after that, spots three through seven will be filled with younger runners.
“(We’re) looking for younger kids to step up to fill slots three to seven,” he said. “Steven Houser and Brandon Scribben should be one and two.”
The only other returning lettermen is sophomore Paul Bagdan.
Locy should have plenty to choose from to fill those final five spots as the Falcons have five upper classmen who didn’t letter last season (four seniors) and five underclassmen.
As far as the AAC is concerned, Locy said the conference is up for grabs after Lakeview.
“Lakeview is one of the better teams in the area (so) it should be a fight for the rest of the places,” he said. “So much in cross country depends on staying healthy.”
The Dragons have a deep roster and lose only two returning lettermen for first-year coach Erik Van’t Veer.
Van’t Veer likes the experience his team has this season.
“This cross country team brings 10 seniors (four of which are returning lettermen) and many other strong promising athletes to the line,” he said. “We have depth and great leadership.”
Those four returning lettermen are Will Taggart, Brady Bunnel, Caleb Henry and Dylan Ackley.
As returning are junior Josh Hotz and sophomore Grant Dalton.
“I am impressed with their positive attitudes and willingness to work hard,” he said. “Many of these young men make contributions to our community, as well. This season is going to be challenging for them, as they have set their goals high as individuals and as a team.
“Coaching these young men is not only a new experience for me, but an honor and a pleasure.”
Lakeside has plenty behind it’s returning as they boast a roster with eight upperclassmen and four under classmen who didn’t letter last year.
Van’t Veer said he has a strong idea of who will be the toughest competition for the Dragons.
“I expect Chardon Madison and Edgewood will be very strong competitors,” he said.
The Beavers lose three lettermen from last year’s team and will have a nice blend of experience and youth for 2013 under first-year coach Matt Ozinga.
Back are seniors Matt Lee, Brigham Baker, Brad Rinella, Kevin Nelson and junior Justin Belle.
Ozinga is keeping the goals simple for his team:
“Run as a team, work hard, have fun, run fast,” he said.
Six juniors and four underclassmen comprise the rest of the Beavers roster.
Ozinga said he expects Riverside to be in the mix for a PAC championship and represent the school district positively.
“We should compete for a conference championship, have more than one runner receive conference honors and represent Riverside well as a district,” he said.
The following schools did not return information sheets sent to them in July:
Madison, Perry and Pymatuning Valley.
Peluso is a staff writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.