Highland coach Doug Bradley hopes a better summer translates into a better season for his girls cross country team this fall.
“Compared to last year’s offseason, this summer has been terrific,” said Bradley, who is assisted by Bob Vance who is a longtime veteran coach of both track and field and cross country.
This summer started with the return of junior Kate Marti and senior Breann Wernle after missing all of last year. Marti suffered a torn ACL playing select soccer early in June 2016 while Wernle elected not to run last year.
The summer mileage turned in by the majority of girls returning to the program this year was also stronger, but Bradley knows health will be a key to the squad’s success.
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“Health will continue to be one of our biggest issues because the depth isn’t there to overcome losses like we had last year,” he said. “So if we stay healthy, the returning runners pick up where they left off, and the freshmen develop into challengers for the top seven positions, this team has the ability to compete with their conference rivals for the conference and regional titles.”
But Bradley knows that challenging for those titles will not be easy because the Mississippi Valley Conference has a load of good, young talent. Mascoutah is the defending conference and regional champ while Waterloo is the defending sectional champ. In addition, perhaps no team team has more incoming talented freshmen than Triad. So, Bradley said the conference, regional, and sectional outlook for Highland is a bit precarious.
Sophomore Sam Hengehold is the Lady Bulldogs’ returning number one runner after turning in a breakout season last year as a freshman.
“She got a little worn out late last year and then had some bad luck at the sectional but she looks to be poised for a great season,” Bradley said. “Sam is maybe the most carefree lead runner I’ve had the privilege to coach. She doesn’t replay race situations over and over in her head and doesn’t expend unnecessary energy on the mental grind that sometimes comes with racing. She refuses to be outworked and understands the importance of consistency.”
Hengehold’s bad luck at last year’s sectional came right out of the starting gate when she lost her shoe 100 meters into the race. Bradley said he firmly believes that cost her a trip to the state meet.
“I fully expect that she won’t let history repeat itself and I look forward to her running (in the state meet) at Detweiller in November,” he said.
Marti and Wernle are both running well after missing last year. They have both crossed the finish line in 18 minutes at Detweiller so they should play big roles for this team.
Bradley said Wernle is the team’s most natural runner.
“Her form and natural ability are the envy of her teammates,” he said. “She decided not to run last year and she is such a talent that the team just couldn’t find anyway to replace what she brings to the table. She will be asked to jump right back into the position that she held two years ago. That included her running as our No. 1 at First To The Finish in mid-September and finishing as our No. 3 at the state meet.”
Marti tore her ACL last year during the first week of June and didn’t return to running until February. She ran a couple of track meets in March and one in early April and her half-mile speed was right back to where it was a year earlier. Marti focused on soccer this past spring and ended up earning All-MVC honors.
“She’s looked good this summer with only a few minor aches and pains along the way,” Bradley said of Marti. “She was our No. 1 runner as a freshman but she doesn’t have to fill that role with this team. She can simply focus on keeping a pack together and contributing to the team success.”
Senior Brittney Nigh is another key returner who really finished strong a year ago as the team’s No. 3 harrier. A month before official practices began, Niggli had already surpassed her mileage total from a year ago.
Also figuring in the mix for a starting spot in the lineup are juniors Lily Becker and Lexy Gilliam, and freshman Jessica Borror.
Bradley said Becker and Gilliam have been key contributors the past two seasons and are going to be relied on for their experience early in the season.
Borror sets the pace for the incoming freshmen. She has a lot of potential and should step right in to the top five.
For freshmen Julia Loeh, Grace Meyer and Pagie Schaible, Bradley said their development will be the key to determining how far this team makes it in the postseason.
Rounding out the roster and providing depth to the squad this season will be seniors Keely Rittenhouse and Hanna Rose, junior Sarah Kampwerth and sophomore Adrian Wille.