The Highland High School boys cross country team was without its best runner, Jacob Plocher, which very well could have cost the Bulldogs two finishing positions as a team at the season-opening Highland Season Kickoff Meet, held on Tuesday of last week at Alhambra Township Park.
In the boys’ race, Carbondale easily ran away with the team title with a team score of 22 points. Mater Dei was a distant second at 53, followed by Collinsville ( 83), Triad (87) and Highland (109).
“The boys finished well behind our opponents, but there were some positives for them,” said Highland coach Doug Bradley. “Our No. 5, 6 and 7 guys finished in a tight pack. We had two freshmen boys score for us and we had (Caleb) Machuca and (Brett) Cochran take charge right out of the gate.”
Sophomore Caleb Machuca led Highland with a 12th-place finish and a team-best time of 19:08.
“Caleb Machuca had a very nice freshman season and he followed that up with a quality sophomore debut on Tuesday,” Bradley said. “He doesn’t have blazing speed but he does have some fight in him and he used that well on a very warm afternoon.”
Junior Bret Cochran worked hard all summer and that training was evident on Tuesday when he finished 17th overall with a time that broke 20 minutes at 19:57.
“Last year, he was 31st and the meet only had four schools last year,” Bradley said. “He would’ve been close to the top 10 if the fifth school wouldn’t have been added this year.”
Also scoring for the Bulldogs were junior Brock Schrage (24th, 20:40), freshman Isaac Jones (31st, 20:56) and freshman Joe Gallo (33rd, 21:11).
The struggle for the boys to find some traction continued on Saturday as the Bulldogs finished in 28th place out of 30 teams at the Granite City Invitational, held at Wilson Park in Granite City.
“We had some solid practices that had me thinking that we were about to take a big step forward but it didn’t happen this week,” Bradley said. “I know these guys have a much better race in them. I’m hoping we’ll see it at Peoria.”
Highland competes in the Peoria Woodruff Invitatioanl this Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Machuca was Highland’s only boy to grab a medal after coming in 21st place out of 193 freshmen/sophomore runners with a time of 17:53.
“Caleb Machuca had a strong day,” Bradley said. “He was battling some shin pain too. He’s clearly our leader here in the early going. He’s added some strength to his frame and he’s determined to get better. I’m excited to see how much he can improve this year.”
Cochran led the varsity runners with a 122nd-place finish out of 206 harriers in 18:58.
“Bret Cochran showed a lot of improvement from a year ago,” Bradley said. “He had a good summer of training and made an effort to train faster. He finished today under 19:00, but I expect we will see a sub 18:00 out of Bret very soon.”