By Chris Chaney
Things are off and running for the 2013 girls’ cross country season and a handful of Clermont County schools feel that their team might have what it takes to not only achieve greatness within their respective conferences, but also on a state-wide scale as well.
Just a few weeks into the fall sports season, area cross country teams have just begun their official training regiments, but most teams have had captains and other self-starters working out year round.
Given the nature of cross country, both sides of the Southern Buckeye Conference compete against one another forcing the smaller schools in the National Division to race against the larger numbers of the big schools in the American Division. And given that occurrence, it’s no surprise to see the American Division schools near the top of the standings.
Atop those standings by themselves is New Richmond, the defending SBC champions. The Lady Lions smoked the competition in 2012 and head coach Rylan Shebesta believes that his team could be even more impressive in 2013.
“I think we’ll be really good again this year,” Shebesta said. “We could be as good if not better than last year. We lost two key runners, but this year I think we will be a little better because we’re going to be deeper.”
Shebesta expects sophomore Claire Burns to be the best runner on the team, already notching times in the early-season meets that Shebesta believes would qualify her for state if the regional meet was today. Burns had been splitting time between soccer and cross country, but has dedicated herself solely to cross country this season.
Aiding Burns will be a host of other returning All-Stars including Paige Anderson, Olivia Behymer and Taryn Rupp.
Looking around the league, Shebesta said that you never quite know who to expect to contend for a championship given the ability of some of the incoming freshmen around the area.
“Freshman girls, for whatever reason if you were to look at the top state standings, there are a ton of freshmen,” he said. “While we won pretty easily last year, depending on who other schools get, you don’t know year to year.
“I always look for Bethel, I know they have a pretty good No. 1 runner in Breanna Keyser and if they can add two girls on their team, they could be competitive.”
Bethel finished low in the league last year despite Keyser’s success, but with some better numbers in 2013, they could leapfrog up the league standings.
Amelia, the third-place finishers a year ago, will also look to have a strong 2013 campaign behind a few experienced leaders returning for their senior seasons.
“Our girl’s team could be a little up in the air, but we bring back both of our captains,” Lady Barons’ head coach Shane Heikenfeld said. “The numbers are down a bit, though.”
Heikenfeld expects Katie Kephart, Ashley Taylor and Jennifer Wilson to take over the leadership roles for the Lady Barons. All three bring experience and leadership skills to the table, which the coach believes will help to make the younger runners more comfortable.
Another top-flight team is Goshen, who brings back a pair of juniors who were two of the best runners in the area last year. Brittany Clark and Courtney Turner carried the flag for the Lady Warriors and coaches around the area think that if Goshen can round out a few more runners, they could compete for a league title.
As for a team on the rise, teams need look no further than Batavia. The Lady Bulldogs bring in a young, but talented group headed up by defending Division II district champion Hannah Winter.
“She should be a solid runner again this year, she’s only a sophomore,” Batavia head coach Dona Braswell said. “Close behind her should be Taylor Albright. She’s a hard worker and very competitive, so her and Hannah should lead up the team.
“I think (the girls’ team) will improve upon (last year’s finish) and move up into the second or third spot in the league. And hopefully, have a few more girls qualify for regionals. We should have a promising year, I’m looking forward to the year.”
In the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, Milford and Glen Este will once again try to build upon a solid 2012 campaign.
The Lady Eagles return a pair of juniors in AnnE Dalzier and Brooke Skladany who were All-ECC selections last year while Glen Este will lean on Jamie Thomas to be their best runner during her senior season.