Like many of the top cross country programs in Southern Illinois, the Belleville East Lancers are busy preparing for one of the first major competitions of the year next week at the Granite City Invitational.
Lancers coach Bryan Mitchell has his sights set on a practice meet at Belleville West on Saturday.
“It doesn’t count and they don’t even keep team scores. It’s just a five-or six-team meet for practice. It gives the kids a chance to run against different competition and it gives the coaches a chance to see what their teams can do and what kinds of times we’re running,” Mitchell said. “I know some of our kids put in a lot of miles over the summer and we’re looking for a good season from both of our boys and girls teams.
“Edwardsville and O’Fallon are always two of the top programs in the area, if not the state. They will be strong again this season. Our goal is to just keep improving as the year goes on and maybe we’ll have a chance of qualifying for state as a team or get a few individuals there. This is a good group of kids and they are working hard.”
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While East may not be able to match the numbers or talent of O’Fallon or Edwardsville, it does have several runners on both the boys and girls teams who could be among the best in the Southwestern Conference.
On the boys side, Lancers assistant coach Joe Byrne is excited about a group of young runners and a few freshmen who have been impressive in early workouts. But East will be led by a small group of runners — at least early — who have contributed to the Lancers’ program in the past.
Returning for his senior season is Amani Franklin. One of the top runners in the SWC a year ago, Franklin went on to finish eighth in the regional and ran a solid race in the sectional, before falling just short.
“Amani ran well for us last year and we’re hoping that his times continue to drop this season,” Byrne said. “If he continues to progress as we think he can and drop a few more seconds off his time, then I think he’s got a good shot of getting to state.
“But I think our team also has a chance. Runners like Joe (Kraus), Brendan (Karwoski) and others who have been in the program for a couple of years now, need to step up and have good years. But I’ve been very encouraged by some of our younger kids as well.”
On the girls side, Mitchell has nearly everybody back from a team which showed progress but was plagued by a bit of inconsistency a year ago.
Senior Sarah Gompers, who placed 13th in the Belleville West Regional last season, is back to lead the way. Sophomore Seleiya Wilson showed tremendous promise a year ago, but needs to get stronger.
Juniors Sydney Hartung, Megan Korte and Cassady Anderson all return and will be counted on to add depth. Seniors Hayley Inyart and Kaitlynn Sanchez will be near the top of the lineup and expected to be leaders.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.