The Wando boys cross country team returns nine of the last season's top 14 runners, providing some high expectations for the upcoming year.
“Most of these runners are juniors, so we also have a lot of race experience that should pay off this year and next season, as well,” coach Bret Davis said.
All-state runner A.J. Gawryluk returns as a highlight of the junior-heavy team. Wando's No. 2 runner last season, Andrew Tyler, graduated and will continue his athletic career at the College of Charleston. Tyler, Jonathan Rice and Miles Clarke were all senior captains, and Davis said it's more difficult than just trying to replace three of the program's top five athletes.
“The biggest weakness we have is replacing those senior leaders from last season that contributed both on and off the course and practice fields,” he said. “We need to find some new leaders to push the group in practice and on race day.
The Warriors finished ranked sixth in the state and fourth in 4A behind Lexington, Mauldin and Wade Hampton. This season, Davis said they'll strive to win 4A Region 7, as well as the state title. “We also plan to finish in the top three at every invitational we travel to in both the varisty and JV divisions,” Davis said.
On several occasions, Wando has two meets scheduled in the same week. Still, Davis said he and new assistant coach Jared Goodman are “very conscience about over working or over racing our athletes.” With a large roster, the Warriors won't need to race all of their athletes every time.
“We always try and travel to as many of the high-profile meets as we can throughout the season, so that our runners can get experience running against the best of the best,” he said, “not only from our state, but from the surrounding states, as well.”
The Warriors' female counterparts face a larger rebuilding task than the boys. “We lost four of the (top) seven girls from last year,” coach Marie Domin said. “A year ago, I thought it would be pretty tough, but we have an amazing new group and returners who have really stepped up.”
Wando grabbed third in South Carolina last season. Domin said the juniors and seniors on the team are mentoring the younger girls for future successes, calling this their greatest strength. “With so many new girls on the team, we are going to set new goals each week,” she added. “Ultimately, we want to still remain top five in the state, and if we can keep everyone healthy and have a few surprises from the new faces, then we can definitely do that.”
Team captain Rosa Marie Compton returns, and freshman Jamie Kase figures to be a force in 4A. The Warriors attended the All-American Cross Country Camp in July in Asheville for the fourth consecutive year. It's a team-building environment, and it allowed them to practice running on hills – rare terrain in the Lowcountry.
“The girls worked together to train on hills, perform a talent show skit and just become a team,” DOmin said.
Small turnout numbers have prohibited the Palmetto Christian Academy boys cross country team from being able to compete at team meets this season. Collin Casey, the Eagles' best male runner, suffered from a stress fracture last season and was unable to compete in the SCISA 2A meet while his teammates earned fifth place.
Coach Dale Hoover said Palmetto Christian lost two athletes to graduation, two transferred and one decided to not run this year. Mitch Hogan, who was a state champion in the 400-meter hurdles last season, will join Collin as the small Eagles' boys team. On the girls side, senior Isable Shelbourne, freshman Taylor Cristo and freshman Kylah Chase combine to make the program's largest female team to date.
It is only the third year that the Eagles have fielded a cross country team. “Due to the fact that we cannot compete as a team, I will focus on our runners improving their personal bests,” Hoover said. “I believe Collin has the ability to compete for the individual state title this year, and, if he improves like he did last year, he should be a strong contender.”
Hoover added that he is “anxious” to see how Hogan fares in long distances. “On the girls' side, I believe all three girls will do quite well, as they have already shown a strong work ethic,” he said.
Palmetto Christian's schedule is not finalized yet, and the Eagles will likely join other meets as the season progresses. So far, they'll compete in Columbia twice – once later this month and again in early October – and test their skills in Summerville and James Island in two September invitationals.
Every team's season should begin with the goal of winning its respective state championship. It's realistic for some programs and a stretch for others.
Bishop England's goal is always a state title, and the Battling Bishops are not far from that reality. The girls finished third last season and the boys secured fourth.
The girls have the best chance, as coach Tony Colizzi said the roster remains largely the same except for No. 1 runner Michelle Lussier who graduated. “She will be tough to replace, but the girls are working hard to make up for that loss,” Colizzi said.
The boys suffered greater turnover with Alex Righi, Andrew Furmanchik and Michael Muir moving on. “Losing three of your top seven is always tough, but we do have several very good runners back,” he said, adding Cristian Widenhouse returns as an individual state champion.
“Our strength is work ethic – many of the kids on the team work extremely hard each day to become the best runner they can be,” Colizzi said. “As with many small schools, our weakness is depth. Currently, we have 20 boys and only 16 girls. With small numbers, it is tough to find seven quality varsity-level runners (per meet).”
The girls core includes Bea DiBona, Anna Navarro, Jo Jo Tompkins, Michele Boykin, Haleigh Clutters and Lizzie Nealon. The boys are highlighted by Widenhouse, Kurt Stieby and Keegan and Jared Desciak.
Bishop England's toughest meet is the Coaches Classic, Colizzi said. “We try to make the schedule as challenging as possible with a strong emphasis on the weekend meets,” he said. “Our big meet is the Coaches Classic which is an early season meet that gives us an idea of how our team is doing.”