CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
The cross country season at Monticello High School is all about repeating.
The Panther boys will be trying to win their third consecutive state Class AA championship. The Panther girls will try to match their state meet qualifying 2012 season, and bring home a trophy for the second year in a row.
Both would seem to have a reasonable chance at those goals. A look at each team:
For the most part, things shouldn’t be much different for the Panther boys this season. Once again they have a deep, talented, respected team – xcnation.com ranks it 11th in the nation.
The Panthers return five of their top eight runners from last year. Senior Michael Melchert was third individually at the state meet a year ago, and senior Nick Meyers was eighth. Seniors Ben Ahlrichs and Anthony Kinley also ran at State, and sophomore Jordan Loes was the team’s alternate.
They will be chased by a very strong supporting cast that includes junior Dearzae Fasnacht, and sophomores Derek Manternach, Matt Manternach, Ben Burds, Dalton Husmann and Zach Holmes.
“The boys’ strengths are a good group of senior leaders,” 10th-year head coach Dan Sauser said. “We have three very talented seniors who will score very nicely and could potentially all finish in the top 10 at the state meet. Adding to the mix are some really talented sophomores that are ready to fill the voids due to graduation.”
What will change is the conference affiliation; the Panthers will join the new River Valley Conference this season. And it will be tough: Tipton, Iowa City Regina and Mid-Prairie were all state-qualifying teams last season; and Cascade should be strong as well.
“This boys team has already set high goals for themselves,” Sauser said. “They would like to win their third consecutive state championship. We’d like to have our whole team in the 16s or below (minutes) at the state meet.
“As always, we’ll need to focus on getting better while maintaining the health of the runners. We do not want any injuries sneaking up on any of the runners.”
The Panther girls had a pair of pleasant surprises last season. They broke through and qualified as a team to the state meet, and then brought home a third place trophy.
Six of the last year’s top eight runners are back, led by sophomore Ellen Schlarmann, who cracked the top 10 individually at State last season, finishing ninth. Juniors Jazmine Reynolds, Mandi Miles and McKenna Kremer ran at State last year, as did sophomore Olivia Sunlin; and junior Natasha Eby was an alternate. Pushing them will be sophomores Abby Schmerbach and Kaela Weber, among others.
“The girls have six returning runners with State experience,” Sauser said. “They know that in order to achieve anything like what last year’s team did, it will take a lot of work an dedication.
“We need more runners to step up and push the returning runners. We have great numbers, but some of these runners have yet to realize their potential. If some of our younger runner begin to mature and improve, this will make our team a lot better.”
The River Valley Conference will also be a strong test for the Panther girls. Counting Monticello, three of the top four teams in last year’s state meet are in the RVC. Northeast of Goose Lake finished second at State and has six returning runners. Cascade was fourth and returns five. Two others, Iowa City Regina and Mid-Prairie, narrowly missed qualifying for State.
“The new conference on the girls side is absolutely loaded with talent,” Sauser said. “We will have our work cut out for us if we want to win the inaugural River Valley Conference championship.”
The Panthers have goals higher than that one.
“The girls team is trying to begin a new streak of state meet appearances. We’d like to match our success from last season and bring home another trophy,” Sauser said.
He is assisted by Vallerie Lynn.