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Thursday, July 22, 2021

2021 Highlands Cross Country Preview

Highlands Teams Each Return Five Runners Who Ran at State Last Year

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior Sam Hopper is one of five runners who ran at state last year returning this season.

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It's a bit of a role reversal from recent years with the Highlands Bluebirds Cross Country teams.

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The Highlands girls have come into the season with solid chances of winning a Class 2A state championship while the boys have had some question marks. But the boys come into this season with solid chances at winning state while the girls have some question marks.

Both teams graduate two runners that helped Highlands to runner-up finishes in the Class 2A, Region 4 meet, but do return five runners each that ran at state last year. The girls finished second at state with 112 points behind the Christian Academy of Louisville's 97 points and the boys finished fifth with 174 points.

Veteran Highlands Head Coach Brian Alessandro put the Highlands boys in the top three with North Oldham in Class 2A. Will Griffith and Peter Laskey graduated from last year's team.

Sophomore Malcolm Robertson leads the way after placing 39th at state last year in 18 minutes, 1.3 seconds. Alessandro credits Robertson for running outside of practice with a group of guys including his twin brother.

"They just do a ton of miles. He is going to be way faster than last year," Alessandro said of Robertson. "It's just about putting in the work. I expect Malcolm to lead our team."

The other four runners who ran at state last year are seniors Thomas Gray-Torsell, Sam Jones along with juniors Sam Hopper and John Laskey. Jones and Gray-Torsell also play soccer so they will divide times with both teams.

Hopper described himself as a wild card. He said he did not start well early in his cross country career. But Hopper could not stress how much of a difference runners put into the offseason.

"The offseason is the most important part of the year because you can train as hard as you want during the season," Hopper said. "But if you are out of shape, the start of your season is going to be rough. It's going to be hard. It might un-motivate you to want to be good in any other part of the season."

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Some other runners are pushing to be part of the seven runners that runs in the region and state meets. They are senior Will White, sophomore Jack Haggard, freshman Brady Robinson along with eighth grader Charlie Herfel and seventh grader Colin Glasgow. Haggard also plays soccer.

"We have a lot of guys that ran well in track that should have some fast times in cross country," Alessandro said. "We have some new runners, too. It's good to have a little in-team competition for spots."

The Highlands girls graduated two-time individual Class 2A state champion Maggie Schroeder and Kayma Wolfinbarger. Schroeder took her talents down the road to Northern Kentucky University and junior Alyssa Harris decided not to come out this year.

"We do have a few that have been on the team for a while," Alessandro said. "But ultimately, we're going to have to look for some people to step up either some upperclassmen who have not been on varsity before or some younger runners that can fill those roles. The girls are definitely in a rebuild. But that does not mean they can't be good."

Alessandro said he expects junior Eden Brumer along with freshman Adrienne Harris to lead the team. Junior Ruby Smith, eighth grader Isabella Neufarth and freshman Sarah Jones also ran at state last year. Smith also dances and plays soccer.

"We have more motivation to keep up with the better teams," Brumer said. "I think we've just been trying to run hard and put in the hard work to get there. We need to be motivated and not sad that (Maggie graduated) because I still have two years here."

Junior softball player Kennedy Baioni has come out for cross country this year. Alessandro said to watch out for seventh grade twins Ella and Sophie Taylor along with seventh grader Parker Moses. Both teams have a lot of middle schoolers running. 

"We try to get their friends to come out with them," Alessandro said. "That keeps them more interested in coming to practice. We don't overdo it."

The first meet is in the Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller Invitational on Aug. 27. The meet starts at 4 p.m. with the last races occurring under the lights.

The Highlands girls rank second in Kentucky history with 11 state champions only trailing St. Henry's 18. They recently won it four years in a row between 2012 and 2015 before coming back to win it again in 2017. The Highlands boys have three with the most recent one coming in 1985.

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