After fielding one of his most experienced girls cross-country teams in his three-decade tenure as Columbus North’s coach last season, Rick Weinheimer could have one of his least experienced this season.
The Bull Dogs lost three four-year varsity runners from their top five from a team that finished third at state last season. Plus, their No. 6 runner moved to Texas.
That leaves North with only three experienced varsity runners as it begins the 2016 season.
“I think the difference is the lack of weight of expectation,” Weinheimer said. “Last year, in the middle of July, those girls felt very heavy with expectation, and that can be troublesome sometimes. This year, we all know that we need to be patient and let people develop and see how we improve over the course of the season, and that’s actually kind of freeing and fun.”
The Bull Dogs do have a solid No. 1 runner returning, senior Rachel Brougher. Brougher has led North with 11th-place state finishes each of the past two seasons.
Junior Arig Tong was in the Bull Dogs’ top five all of last season and was their No. 3 runner in some meets. This spring, she ran on North’s state-qualifying 4×800-meter relay team in track.
“She started to really blossom at the end of track,” Weinheimer said. “She ran really well at both the regional and the state, and she’s carried that through. I think she’s way ahead of where she was before.”
Junior Ana Singhal was North’s No. 7 runner last season.
The Bull Dogs are adding three promising freshmen in Olivia Morlok, Kennedy Kerber and Lily Dozier. Battling with them for varsity spots are juniors Kirsten Ballard, Madelyn Sanders and Jocelyn Maynard; sophomores Sydney Geckler and Emma Smith and senior Sydney Perry.
“I think the offseason has gone really well for them,” Weinheimer said. “It’s a different kind of year because we had those three seniors who were not only on last year’s team, they had been on the team four years in a row. So to have the spots open is an exciting opportunity for people.”
Like North, the Olympians have some spots to fill after losing three four-year varsity runners.
East also has a new coach in former assistant Jesse Shoaf.
“We’re pretty young and inexperienced,” Shoaf said. “I think we have a few with some promise. We have a few freshmen that look promising, but we’re not a very deep team.”
Senior Emma Mensendiek was the Olympians’ No. 2 runner most of last season and moves into the top spot this year. Junior Kristen Lyons also ran in East’s top five for most of the season.
Sophomore Amanda Pottorff, junior Lizzy Frazier and senior Lindsey Morgan all ran varsity last year. Sophomore newcomer Megan Whipple and freshmen Ashley Novereske and Hannah Harris will battle for the final two varsity spots.
East also has added sophomore Kyomi Ball, a move-in from Brown County who is awaiting an eligibility ruling on her transfer.
The Olympians advanced to semistate last season.
“That’s our goal — to get to semistate each year,” Shoaf said. “We’d like to get an All-Conference runner. We haven’t had anyone break into that the last couple of years, so we’d like to see that happen.”
The Jets began practice with only four runners but added a fifth Friday, which would give them enough to score as a team.
Senior Naomi Gollmer was Hauser’s top runner last season. Senior MaLeah Bates and sophomore Kristen Keith also return.
Tori Chandler, an exchange student from Australia, is out for the team. Freshman Bailey Bates joined the squad Friday.
“We’re a little behind, but I think that we will catch up,” Hauser coach Ben Finke said. “They’re all experienced runners, and I think they will come through.”
The Panthers are coming off a big season in which they qualified for semistate for the first time in more than 20 years.
Three varsity runners are gone from that team, but Jennings returns six who competed in some races. Sophomore Ashley Heindel and senior Nicole Richardson were two of the team’s top three runners.
Freshman Emma Morrison has shown promise in practice this summer. Sophomore Alana Daeger and senior Sydney Taylor return from the postseason lineup.
Also back with varsity experience are senior Helen Fields and sophomore Patricia Henney. Sophomore newcomer Marley Stearns, who also is playing volleyball, could challenge for a varsity spot, along with freshman Emily Waldo.
“I think our biggest focus right now is working on the sixth man,” Jennings coach Leah McLeod said. “I need that sixth person to speed the top five up. We kind of struggle in the beginning of the season. It takes us a little bit to build up, but once they see their times start to drop, they get into it.”
The Eagles return only two runners from a team that qualified for regional last season.
Senior Haley Abraham, who was Brown County’s No. 2 runner at times last season, is the top returner. Senior Molly Austin also is back.
Beyond that, Eagles coach Rob Abraham will look to a trio of newcomers. In that group are freshmen Maris Wyman and Cassidy Davis and sophomore Coralynne Robinson.
“We’re definitely rebuilding,” Rob Abraham said. “It could be a little bit difficult year this year, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.”
The Lancers have a new coach, 2012 Edinburgh graduate and former Franklin College runner Ashley Myers, and she has seven girls out for this year’s team.
“It’s not huge numbers, but it’s bigger than when I went to school,” Myers said. “It still seems low, but it’s grown, and that’s all that I’m looking at.”
Freshman Destiney Ramey has been the Lancers’ top runner in practice. Seniors Blythe Carman and Allie Schooler return to the varsity.
Looking to fill the other varsity spots are four newcomers: senior Bailey Woodall, junior Lili Ervin and freshmen Abby Schooler and Chloe Grass.
2016 cross-country schedules for Bartholomew County schools:
Aug. 17;at Brown County Challenge;5:45 p.m.
Aug. 20;at Zionsville Invitational;9 a.m.
Aug. 27;at Rushville Invitational;9 a.m.
Sept. 3;at Columbus North Classic;8:30 a.m.
Sept. 10;at Ben Davis Invitational;9:30 a.m.
Sept. 17;Flashrock Invitational at Carmel;9 a.m.
Sept. 24;at Bedford North Lawrence Invitational;9 a.m.
Sept. 27;at Columbus North;5:30 p.m.
Oct. 1;HHC at Bedford North Lawrence;9 a.m.
Aug. 23;Martinsville;5:30 p.m.
Aug. 27;Conference Indiana at Terre Haute;9 a.m.
Sept. 3;Columbus North Classic;8:30 a.m.
Sept. 10;at Brown County Eagle Classic;9:30 a.m.
Sept. 17;at Louisville Trinity Invitational;9:30 a.m.
Sept. 24;at Culver Invitational;8:30 a.m.
Sept. 27;Columbus East;5:30 p.m.
Aug. 20;at Rising Sun Invitational;10 a.m.
Aug. 27;at Rushville Invitational;9 a.m.
Aug. 30;at Greensburg (with South Decatur, Eastern Hancock);5 p.m.
Sept. 6;at Edinburgh;5 p.m.
Sept. 8;6-way meet at Blue River Park;5:30 p.m.
Sept. 10;at Whiteland Invitational;8:30 a.m.
Sept. 17;MHC at Blue River Park;9 a.m.
Sept. 24;Heritage Day Classic;9 a.m.
Sept. 27;Morristown;5 p.m.
Sept. 29;at Greensburg Invitational;5 p.m.