Armstrong XC teams undertaking youth movement
Youth might reign supreme for the local cross country teams this fall, as several coaches have tabbed underclassmen as their top runners.
Here is a rundown of who to watch:
This fall, Megan Kidder will learn how her older sister, Alecia, felt during the past two cross country seasons.
Megan frequently beat Alecia in 2008 and 2009. They competed on a daily basis, and both consequently improved.
Alecia graduated last spring. Now Megan, a junior, expects to have a speedy freshman, Emily Kutch, on her tail.
"You can just see she's gonna be a good runner," said Megan Kidder, who noted she had not raced Kutch yet.
Both girls have a new home course and a new coach this fall. Jim Baty has replaced Jon McCullough, and the Wildcats traded their 2.8-mile route at West Hills Elementary for a 3.2-mile jaunt through Community Park.
Kidder considered an appearance in the state meet within her capabilities in 2009. But on the day of the WPIAL race, she finished 96th in Class AA.
"I psyched myself out," she said. "I got nervous at the beginning of the season for WPIALs, and by the time I got there, it was bad."
Asked if she would be disappointed if she fell short again, Kidder answered, "Oh my, yes ... That'd be very heartbreaking."
Aside from junior Kathryn Hamilton, who placed 72nd at the WPIAL championship meet as a sophomore, the Sabers have another promising distance runner in sophomore Caleb Smith.
Coach Jim Simmons believes Smith has the potential to be a top-50 finisher at this season's WPIAL meet. His three senior teammates on the boys' side -- Tanner Fiscus, Ethan Sedlack and Tyler Cochenour -- will help him develop.
"He has no flair about it," Simmons said of Smith's attitude about being the top runner as a sophomore. "He likes to run, and he goes out and does it."
At their first cross-country scrimmage of the season, a tri-meet with Union and Indiana, the Elderton Bobcats received visual confirmation of what they already knew: Their team was on the losing end of a numbers game.
"There's just this sea of other colors..." first-year coach Bonnie Meyer said. "And there's little, old us, so (Elderton's kids) were definitely intimidated."
Elderton is short on experience but stocked with runners who are willing to put in the time and energy, Meyer said.
"The kids seem to have the endurance," Meyer said. "It didn't take long to get them up to 3.1 miles."
The Bobcats need more speed and more knowledge of cross country's subtleties, Meyer said. But they have shown signs of progress.
At the scrimmage at Union, Meyer said she yelled for junior Landon Kunselman to watch for opponents behind him as he headed down the final straightaway. Kunselman looked back, noticed an oncoming runner, and took off for the finish.
"His sprint was crazy," Meyer said. "It was great."
The Wolves will search for more team and individual success this year. Neither the boys nor the girls team had a finisher in the top 100 at the WPIAL championship meet a season ago, and both teams were in the bottom two of the team meet point totals.
On the girls' side, only two runners graduated from the seven-girl group that took 32nd at the WPIAL team meet a season ago. But two of its top three returning runners, juniors Kaitlyn Meyer and Stephanie Lightner, went back to Elderton. Senior Alyssa Hankey likely moves into the No. 1 spot.
The top three runners from the boys team that took 38th in 2009 graduated. Either junior Mike Norman or sophomore David Batistig -- both WPIAL meet competitors -- likely has become the team's fastest runner.