HUNTERTOWN — The Huntington North Invitational is usually the first real indicator of who’s going to make an impact on the Carroll High School cross country team each season. With several former standouts departing to college this year, head coaches David Brooks and Phil Yoder will see which up-and-comers have put in the work this summer.
“That race will be indicative and revealing,” Brooks, head coach for the Charger boys, said. “Our No. 1 goal this year is just to get the best out of what we have. That’s always been the focus, whether it’s with sprinters in track or distance girls or anything else.”
It’s hard to talk about this year’s Carroll teams without considering the shoes they’ll have to fill. The boys team lost five of its seven 2018 semi-state runners — Cole Powers, Cory Waldron, Draven Thompson, Hunter Wallace and Weston Miser — while the girls team lost two of the fastest runners in the program’s history in Meagan Hathaway and Abby Green, who finished fifth and ninth, respectively, at the state finals to help the Chargers win their first ever state title.
“Certainly you have to address the fact that you lose Abby and Meagan on the girls side and probably four of your top five guys, but I think those that are back know the holes need to be filled and we’re going to focus on getting them to their potential,” Brooks said.
Last year, the boys team finished third at sectional before coming back to claim the regional title at West Noble. The Chargers placed seventh at the New Haven Semi-State, with Powers claiming the team’s only individual state qualification.
The girls team won titles in all four postseason races, and Hathaway was the individual champion at sectional and semi-state.
“Every year is different,” Yoder, head coach for the girls team, said. “That was a special team last year and we finally got over the hump, but this team has to want it just as bad as last year’s team did. It’s a new group, and we’ve got some people that haven’t been in positions they’re going to be in so we’ll see how they rise to the occasion.”
The girls team returns four of its state finishers from last year, including seniors Rayna Fruchey and Mallory Clements, juniors Zoe Duffus and Ashlyn Minton, and sophomore Brooke Hansen. Fruchey finished sixth during last year’s state finals, and the other four returners all placed in the top 122 last season.
“We have a lot of people coming back that are hungry to have their Carroll legacy,” Yoder said. “We’ve got a lot of talent back, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
The boys team will have to dig a little deeper to find its lineup, but Brooks expects more good times from senior Hayden Mullett and sophomore Robert Lohman — both of whom ran for Carroll in the 2018 postseason.
“We’re a little bit younger, but I think just looking at the first workouts this year, Hayden’s running really well — he’s going to have a great year — and I think there are others behind him that realize there are some opportunities for growth and opportunities to run faster,” Brooks said, adding that he also expects to see an impact from sophomores Preston Sloffer and Jackson Million.
Sophomore Ava Leimkuhler could be poised to score some points for the girls this year as well.
“There are a lot of names there, but I don’t know if we can expect them to be significant contributors right away without having seen a ton yet, especially as far as the races go,” Brooks said.
“Some kids might have been busy over the summer and didn’t quite get the training they wanted, and it’s not until the end of the season when they really hit their stride,” Yoder added. “There’s always a surprise or two every season, and it’s always fun to see who that is.”
The Chargers will take off at Huntington University 9 a.m. Saturday.
“Until you actually tow a line in a race, you just have to figure out who should be working out faster and what the mentality is on race day,” Brooks said.