|Highlands Teams Eyeing State Championships|
|Highlands senior Maggie Schroeder won the Class 2A individual state championship two years ago.|
By G. Michael Graham
It's been a few years since Head Coach Brian Alessandro has expressed this much confidence in both teams but he believes both the Highlands Bluebirds boys and girls cross country teams could win Class AA state championships this year. That has happened once in school history in 1979 when both teams won that class together.
The Highlands girls own 11 state titles in school history including five since Alessandro became head coach. Those 11 state championships are second in the state for most behind St. Henry's 11 state titles.
They won four in a row between 2012 and 2015 before winning another in 2017. The other pair of three straight came between 1978 and 1980 then between 2002 and 2004.
Pretty much everyone returns who ran at state last year except for Alissa Campbell on the girls side who graduated. That includes senior Maggie Schroeder, who won the first individual state championship in Highlands girls cross country history two years ago. She finished 10th at state last year in 20 minutes, 10.96 seconds despite not being 100 percent.
"That is their main goal is to get back to where they're winning state championships again," Alessandro said. "It's about being accountable when other girls aren't there. They're at soccer practice or something to keep at it. Maggie has become a leader at that, which she has not been in the past. She's kind of a laid-back type."
The Highlands girls finished third last year behind two-time state champion Scott and the Christian Academy of Louisville with 125 points. The Highlands boys took fourth behind Corbin, Boyd County and Webster County.
Teams are allowed to run in nine meets during the regular season. Alessandro said the key to success this year will be dealing with changes during the Coronavirus 2019 Pandemic. They will only run in a few huge invitationals during the regular season. But most meets are dual and tri-meets.
The Highlands boys have 15 guys competing for 10 spots on the state roster. Sophomore Sam Hopper led Highlands at state last year finishing 20th in 17 minutes, 21.02 seconds. Senior Will Griffith returns after finishing 24th in 17:26.75 last year. Junior Sam Jones also returns after finishing 27th in 17:28.
"It's a great problem to have," Alessandro said. "We only have a few seniors. It's a young, deep team so we're really excited about that."
Freshman Malcolm Robertson, senior Peter Laskey, junior Thomas Gray-Torsell and sophomore John Laskey also return after running at state last year. Highlands beat Lexington Catholic at state after finishing second to the Knights in the Class 2A, Region 4 meet. Alessandro said Robertson could be one of the best to come through the school.
Junior Will White and eighth grader Landon Fernandez are in the mix. White missed cross country in the fall last year and has missed baseball the last two years.
"I did everything I could just to get back into it and nothing was really clicking," White said. "When quarantine came up and I was healthy, I just hit summer training hard. I remember the energy of the state meet. I just really felt motivated to get back out there with my teammates and give the best effort I can and be grateful of my opportunity to get back out there and compete."
Alessandro said the success of the girls could depend if senior Greta Noble and sophomore Alyssa Harris run in the postseason. They both play soccer. Harris finished 13th at state last year in 20:14.53.
Recent Highlands graduate Maria Broering ran on the weekends years ago while playing soccer in 2017. She helped the Bluebirds to the state championship that year.
Sophomores Eden Brumer, Ruby Smith, eighth grader Adrienne Harris and senior Kayma Wolfinbarge also ran at state last year. Alessandro said Isabella Neuforth could emerge this year.
"We have a smaller girls team," Alessandro said. "But we still have a solid top seven. That should be interesting."
Wolfinbarge did not run cross country until last year. She ran after playing soccer for 12 years.
"I'm just glad that we get to have our season," Wolfinbarge said. "I've always liked running because we ran for soccer. I started cross country and I was only doing it to stay in shape and have something fun to do. But then I turned out to be really good at it and I liked it. We have a really great group of girls to run with. I'm really excited for this year."
The first meet is Friday in a quad meet with Cooper, St. Henry and Conner. The teams run in the Louisville Trinity Invitational on Sept. 19.