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PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Despite key losses, John Hardin has experience on its side

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By Josh Claywell

By JOSH CLAYWELL jclaywell@thenewsenterprise.com

The cross country season brings several changes to the area racing scene.

Not only were the classes realigned last fall, but a few new faces have taken over at area programs.

The KHSAA approved the realignment last November and changed the advancement formula for cross country and track and field. For regions with 1-3 full teams entered, two teams advance to State; 4-6 teams entered, three advance; 7-9 teams entered, four advance; 10-12 teams entered, five advance; and 13 or more teams entered, six teams advance.

Four schools – Central Hardin, John Hardin, Meade County and North Hardin – are no longer in the same region. Central Hardin, John Hardin and North Hardin moved to Region 2 with Barren County, Bowling Green, Bowling Green Greenwood, Grayson County, Ohio County and Warren Central.

Meade County remains in Region 3 with Bullitt Central, Nelson County and Louisville schools Butler, Doss, Manual, Iroquois, Male, Pleasure Ridge Park and St. Xavier.

New coaches are James Jackson at North Hardin and Josh Henderson at LaRue County.

JOHN HARDIN. The biggest task ahead for veteran coach Ralph Tucker? Replacing two-time Area Runner of the Year Aundreas Lopez.

“It’s going to be hard to replace him,” Tucker said. “But hopefully we’ll have someone step up and help take over for him.”

The Bulldogs also must replace Dalton Hubble and Daniel Swartz, two athletes who decided not to run this season.

But John Hardin also returns a wealth of experience from last year’s team which sent three runners to State.

Back are seniors Eddie Alcock and Shane Voshell, juniors James Kubisch and Chip Freeman and sophomores Nathan Hubble and Josh Vogel.

Alcock, who finished 92nd at State last season, took part in the prestigious Governor’s Scholar Program over the summer and missed most of preseason practice.

“Eddie’s got more experience than anyone on the team. He had a busy summer and he’s not where I want him at this time,” Tucker said. “I’m expecting big things out of James. That’s our 1-2 punch.”

Newcomer John Egin, a sophomore, figures to be the Bulldogs’ No. 3 runner. Rounding out the top seven are Voshell, Freeman, Hubble and Vogel.

“Eddie brings leadership and experience and James has improved each year he’s been out. I expect him to improve again this year,” Tucker said. “John has been a very big surprise this season. His potential is unlimited.”

NORTH HARDIN. The Trojans return three runners from last year’s team – three-year runner/team captain Cameron Smith, Shawn Henderson and Andrew Stewart.

Stewart finished 94th at State, while Smith and Henderson didn’t qualify.

“The team is going through a rebuilding phase,” said first-year coach James Jackson, who was pulled out of retirement by girls’ coach John Russell. “Cameron and Shawn Henderson are working hard, plus we have a really good middle school runner named Michael Haycraft who can possibly run in the 17s this year.”

North Hardin has 21 runners out for the team, which is up from 12 a year ago.

Including Stewart, a few soccer players will run this fall.

“I’m lucky that Coach (Jim) Stone has about five guys who are running with me in the morning,” Jackson said. “I’m really encouraged by that.”

Jackson has helped coach at North Hardin for the last several years, but was asked to take over the boys’ program when Russell moved to the girls’ team.

“I was happy to be in retirement and just happy to work with him,” Jackson said. “And when he took over the girls, it was a lot of soul searching for me to take this job. I was happy to just help Coach Russell. He’s a great young man to work with.”

Jackson has set some pretty lofty goals for his team in his first year back.

“I am glad to be back, but the expectation level is high,” Jackson said. “We want to qualify for State and be top three in the region. I may be dreaming, but I’m hoping for a top-10 finish at State. I think it is realistic. I wouldn’t be saying it if I didn’t. Some people may think I’m crazy, but I think this team is capable.”

CENTRAL HARDIN. The Bruins didn’t qualify a runner for State last season, but return a solid senior class in Greg Book, Beau Salyers, Josh King, Ryan Ortiz and Corey Romine.

“It’s going to be pretty much bare bones when they graduate,” said second-year Central Hardin coach Steven Gray.

Gray said Romine and junior Andrew Beams have made the most progress over last season.

“Corey worked hard in the offseason,” Gray said. “He and Andrew worked hard coming over from track. They ran during the summer and are in pretty good shape.”

Sophomore Brandon Woodcox, who suffered a torn ligament in his ankle last year, is also back.

“I hope we’ll be one of the top five teams at regions,” Gray said. “It just really depends on how hard these guys want to work.”

ELIZABETHTOWN. The Panthers return their top seven runners and nearly everyone else from last year’s team which finished 13th at State.

“We return quite a bit of experience on the boys’ team,” Elizabethtown coach Dickie Jones said. “Last year those guys really pushed each other. This year what I think we get out of our top runners is experience and leadership. Last year we were so young at times that we didn’t know what to really expect coming in. These guys have a good understanding of what it’s going to take to be a top-five team in the state.”

Back are senior Ethan Jones, juniors Matthew Hepner, Trace Stufflebeam and Trent Parker and sophomores Nathan Douglas, Jonathan Serpico and Tyler Larkin.

The Panthers have to replace Marc Oropillia, a junior who transferred to Louisville St. Xavier after finishing ninth in the Class 2-A, Region 2 Meet last year.

“Last year he was one of our top five runners,” Jones said. “It’s a big loss, but I think it opens the door up for some of these guys that ran pretty well last year.”

MEADE COUNTY. The Green Wave didn’t qualify a runner for State last year, but with the return of junior Sean Breeds, veteran coach Larry Garner hopes to qualify as a team.

“Last year we just struggled,” Garner said. “This year we’re so deep. We have 12 or 14 guys fighting to get on varsity and they all have a legitimate shot.”

And it starts with juniors Travis Beck, Joseph Humprey, Ben Sheeran and Breeds.

“We don’t have any senior guys on the team, but we’ve got those four junior guys that have been with me for five years,” Garner said. “It’s a very mature group.”

Breeds returns after spending the majority of his sophomore season running for North Hardin and coach John Russell, one of Garner’s best friends.

As of Friday, Breeds was still waiting to be cleared to compete by the KHSAA.

“I had to help him fill some of the paperwork out, and it was a pain in the butt,” Garner said. “I’ve never done it before. I never knew all the stuff you have to go through. It hasn’t been too bad, but I’m ready for him to be with us full time.”

Also back are juniors John Stroud and Chad Medley and sophomores Matthew Fackler and Tyler Blair.

FORT KNOX. The Eagles have two returning runners – juniors Robert Barrasa and Mike Taylor.

Barrasa, the lone State qualifier, finished 76th at the state championships.

“He is one of those guys that can go 24-7,” said fifth-year Fort Knox coach Scott Curley. “No matter how tired he is, he can go the distance and that rubs off on the guys.”

Fort Knox hopes to benefit from having several soccer players on the team. Senior Chris DeLeon, junior Sam Quintas, sophomores Chris Whitaker and Patrick Ogden and freshman Corey Mason all are vying for time in the Eagles’ top seven.

“It’s a really big plus for us,” Curley said. “We usually get the guys who don’t want to do anything else. It’s nice with (Fort Knox boys’ soccer coach Alex) Molina being open as far as communication goes.”

Also new to the team is junior Daniel Salvetti, who transferred from Seoul, Korea.

“He’s a competitor. He’s right up there with Robert,” Curley said. “He’s been a great addition to the program.”

LARUE COUNTY. Under first-year coach Josh Henderson, the Hawks return six runners from last year’s team which finished sixth at the Class 2-A, Region 2 Meet.

“Honestly, the goals are high,” said Henderson, a 2003 Caverna and 2007 Western Kentucky University graduate. “I’d like to go to State as a team and I want to build the program for the future.”

The six returnees – senior Jacob Jones, juniors Ryan Durbin, Josh Jones and Alex Wood, sophomore Spencer Reed and seventh-grader Adam Sandidge – along with juniors Truman Padgett and Brandon Whelan and freshman Michael Geary provide Henderson with a good corps of runners to build around.

“They all should be strong,” Henderson said. “I think we should be a contender for the region. We’ve got to work hard and race in a lot of meets.”

Henderson, who teaches sophomore world civ, replaces longtime coach Jack Mitchell, who came out of retirement to coach the team last season.

“I’m excited about the kids I have,” Henderson said. “We’re young, but there’s talent. You can do a lot with talent.”

Josh Claywell can be reached at 505-1752