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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Highlands Cross Country Preview

Ladybirds, Bluebirds hope to reload for another title run

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands Ladybirds celebrated their school-record fourth straight state championship last fall.
It's like a lot of their sports teams.

The Highlands Bluebird and Ladybird cross country teams tend to reload for title runs. They hope that's especially the case this fall.

The Ladybirds have won a school-record four consecutive Class AA state championships and the one last year marked the 10th overall. The state record for most consecutive state titles in a row is five held by Western Hills and St. Henry.

They welcome back five of those seven runners who ran at the state meet at Horse Park in Lexington. The Ladybirds graduated Lauren Ossege and Molly Mearns.

"I think we'll have some surprises with some younger girls," said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. "We have some freshmen who could step up. We just want to be in the conversation at least. Chloe Gastright has been here since the first one. She wants to go out without losing."

Gastright, a senior, finished 12th in 19 minutes, 53.75 seconds in the state meet. Eighth grader Maggie Schroeder took seventh in 19:20.82 with junior Karsen Hunter taking 17th in 20:15.17. The other two returning runners are junior Brianna Collins (40th in 20:56.67) and eighth-grader Greta Noble (58th in 21:29.98). Alessandro said 11th grader Savannah Brady and freshman Adriana Muntaner could key contributers this year.

"We have a lot of younger girls this year," Hunter said. "As upperclassmen, Chloe and I have really been pushing the younger girls. We get faster and faster with every workout. We try to encourage them to keep up with people in front of them."

The Bluebirds graduated six of the top seven runners from last year's Class AA state runner-up squad including two-time individual state champion Ethan Shuley. Geoffrey Mearns, Matt Gray, Will Backschieder. Jackson Paul and Michael Long graduated.

"They could get top four. I think that's the goal for us," Alessandro said. "It's about the unknown guys and seeing how we bounce back. We've been very fortunate to have (strong runners) before. The guys that graduated had extraordinary talent. Before, it was like, 'I'm not going to be in the top seven. I'm not going to beat Ethan Shuley. I'm not going to beat Geoff Mearns and all that stuff. Now it's like, 'Hey. I can lead this team. It's a different atmosphere."

The only returning runner who has state experience is senior Colt Parris. Parris finished 68th in the state meet in 17:52.12 last year.

"Basically, I'm just trying to get us all to work together," Parris said. "Although myself and the older guys can run farther. We at least warm up together and communicate."

Highlands has had some new faces come out this year. Seniors Jake Horsten, Kevin Kreutzer could be key for the Bluebirds along with junior Josh White and eighth grader Will Griffith.

The training regiment has worked well for Highlands in the past. The teams generally taper down some leading up to the state meet.

"They've kind of gotten used to what we do," Alessandro said."Some of the workouts will have little tweaks here and there from last year. But the obviously ran well last year so we'll try to keep it the same."

The Bluebirds own three state cross country state championships in school history. They came in 1979, 1983 and 1985.

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