When Patton Segraves took over the coaching duties with the Belleville West cross country program over a decade ago, the Maroons were a middle-of-the-pack team looking up at Southwestern Conference powers Edwardsville and O’Fallon.
Some things never change. Now, 11 years after taking on the task of closing the gap, Segraves and the Maroons are still looking up. And so is the rest of the SWC.
“When you talk about Edwardsville and O’Fallon, you’ve got two of the top programs in the state. They are teams with junior high programs which continue to feed into the schools each year and get huge numbers. While you need five runners, its easier to find top runners when you get 70 kids out then it is when you get 25-35 like we do,’’ Segraves said. “Their kids run on cross country teams in junior high and a lot of our kids come in as freshmen as first year runners.
“I’m not making excuses. We’ve had some success here. We’ve had individuals qualify for the state meet in six of our 10 years and that’s pretty good. Alot of schools can’t say that. Plus its not always about the top tier runners either. Sometimes you have kids come in who haven’t run before and as time goes on they improve and start to achieve. That is very rewarding as well.’’
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Still a week away from its first big challenge of the season at the Granite City Invitational on Sept. 5, West has 15 girls and 20 boys on its 2015 squad. Junior Brian Gichuru and senior Hunter Cason are two harriers who could be among the elite boys in the SWC this season while senior Sarah Dintelmann will lead the girls squad this fall.
Gichuru, who began his running career as a member of the Maroons track team as a freshman two years ago, has assumed the role as the Maroons top runner this season.
“Brian had a real good summer of training and has set some pretty lofty goals for the season. This being only his second year of running cross country I think he’ll have even a better senior season a year from now. But he’s excited and I really like his enthusiasm. He really wants to do well.’’
Gichuru figures to be pushed by Cason, a four-year varsity runner who has been among the Maroons top four runners his first three years at West while junior Nick Ernst also figures to be somewhere in the top four after an exceptional track season last Spring.
Junior Nate Robben and sophomore Jimmy Reed are the frontrunners to grab the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the Maroons lineup while juniors Isreal Renteria, Ian Kern, Ethan Lamons and Brendan Preston are battling sophomore Lucas Robben for a spot high in the Maroons lineup.
“I really like the way Jimmy (Reed) is running right now. He’s a kid who was probably our No. 12-13 runner a year ago, but he ran all summer and has really improved. Isreal (Renteria) has also looked good so far,’’ Segraves said. “It would nice to have a little competition each week for the last two or three runners.
Dintelmann will lead a strong group of four seniors who will lead the way for what should be a strong Maroons squad. West graduated four year starters in Olivia Horton and Emily Fulton, but Dintelmann along with Sarah Branson, Analyse Sauerwin and Kara Luechtefeld give Segraves a quartet of athletes who will be leaders both on and off the race courses.
“Sarah (Dintelmann) is one of those who has been with the program for four years and impoved each year. We’re looking forward to good senior year from Sarah as well as the other seniors,’’ Segraves said. But our No. 2 runner right now may be a freshman in (Hannah) Eastman who has come in and looked very good so far. Being a freshman we’re going to take it east and not push her too hard yet.
“We’ve also got a couple other freshmen in Hayley (Steen) and Kayla Kokotovich who have looked strong in practice so far. Are hope is to bring them along slowly and maybe by the end of the season, they’ll be battling for a top five or top seven spot.’’