With new team members being added to the Holden high school cross country teams throughout preseason practices in August, veteran team members and first-year Holden cross country head coach Ben Kiger are approaching the starting line for the upcoming season.
Both the Lady Eagles team and the Eagles boys team return a state meet qualifier on each respective roster as a mix of returning runners greet incoming underclassmen, and foreign exchange student runners.
Coach Kiger expects a somewhat seamless transition to the head coach role from the assistant coach position he held under former head coach Dale Wescott. Wescott retired from coaching the Holden cross country teams at the end of last season after pushing the Holden runners on the cross country course for 20 years.
Returning runners who competed for both coach Wescott and coach Kiger the past couple of seasons will help to ease the transition as the runners look to continue Holden’s success on the cross country course.
“It will be hard to follow coach Wescott,” says coach Kiger. “He basically built this cross country program and built a very successful program.
“With any sport there is a learning curve,” continues coach Kiger. “I just trust my experienced runners to communicate with me about what they need to be successful. We are lucky to have some tremendous leaders who love the sport of cross country. I don’t know that I will be tweaking a whole lot this year.”
Lady Eagles Cross Country
A noticeable change from the past two seasons to this season is that the Lady Eagles high school cross country team will have the opportunity to compete as a full team.
The Lady Eagles regularly put three runners on the course at most meets last year. Two years ago, the team featured then-freshman Ava Young as the lone Lady Eagle runner for the high school girl’s cross country program.
“We didn’t have a girls team last year,” describes coach Kiger. “Even though we had some really good runners we didn’t have enough. We return a state qualifier in Ava Young. We return Abby Miller and Malea Brewington as well. We also have Riley Snively back from an injury all of last year.
“We had some really good individual performances from all three of our runners last year, but this year we are looking at the team aspect and how we can compete against our conference and district opponents.”
Young returns for her junior year season as a two-time all-conference runner, two-time all-district runner, and a two-time state qualifier. After running as the lone Lady Eagle representing the girls side of the cross country program in her freshman season, she was joined by Miller and Brewington on the course last season.
“Ava is the same hard worker that she always is,” says coach Kiger. “She really has a love and joy for cross country, and I think that is so important in being a leader. I think she will be looking to be all-conference, and returning to state for the third straight year. She takes care of her body and really knows what it takes for the long haul of the season.
“Malea had a great first year, and even in track just continued to get better and better,” says coach Kiger of Brewington who regularly contributed team points in long distances races during her freshman track season last year. “She is working her way back into cross country, and I expect by the end of the year to be one of our top runners.”
Miller returns for her sophomore campaign a year stronger looking to run in one of the top spots on the team.
“Abby is strong,” says coach Kiger. “She has been nursing some injuries and is working her way back into a groove. I think she will be alongside Ava and Malea. All three of those girls finished first for Holden last year, so I expect them to continue to push each other.”
Snively looks to return to the course this season after running cross country and track and field in middle school but having to sit out all of last season while recovering from an injury.
“I’m so excited to have Riley back,” says coach Kiger. “She was so good during her middle school years and shows a lot of heart and tenacity.”
Senior foreign exchange student Elsa Grange joins the team this season.
“Elsa Grange is a foreign exchange student from France,” describes coach Kiger. “She has shown some toughness in her first few practices.”
Incoming freshmen to the girls team with middle school running experience include Madisyn Talley and Ashtyn Treece.
“Madisyn Talley, this young lady had a good middle school career and will be looking to figure out the 3.1k race. She just keeps going. She is a consistent runner and always gives it her all. I think she can keep up with the juniors and sophomores. Great kid and great work ethic.
“Ashtyn Treece is another one coming off of a good middle school career and will be working on figuring out the race and her pacing,” says coach Kiger. “She is mentally and physically tough which you have to be to be successful in cross country. She has been working hard all year, and I am excited to see how her results show on a high school course.”
Returning to top placings both as a team, and as individuals at the MRVC-East Meet this season is a goal mentioned by coach Kiger.
“I expect that our top four or five girls have a shot at all-conference,” says coach Kiger. “I don’t want to bet against any of them. The Lexington girls are normally really good. It will be interesting if we are completely healthy how we will stack up against them.
“This year is about gaining experience and getting used to running as a team again,” emphasizes coach Kiger. “We haven’t been able to field a team much in the past year or two, so it is an exciting time to be an Eagle. I am really excited to see what this young team can do. I think if we continue to work for each other and push each other, we can finish higher than people might project us.”
Eagles Cross Country
The Eagles boys cross country team will take to the course as a squad with five team members this season.
Rett Hankins in his junior year season headlines the boy’s roster as he is joined by first-year runner Joseph Samilin, a junior, incoming freshman Evan Robinson, and senior foreign exchange students Gerard Costa and Noel Petitppierre.
Gone from last year’s team is graduated senior and team leader Zach Willis, and foreign exchange senior student Ruben Wiesmann.
“Zach was a quiet leader,” describes coach Kiger of Willis who progressed over his career to become MRVC-East individual champion in his senior season, and a two-time state qualifier. “He led by example and always practiced hard. I think cross country gave Zach a lot of confidence and helped him, so he loved it.”
Hankins’s accomplishments during his high school career coincided with Willis’s final two seasons as the runners pushed each other on the course. Hankins, like Willis is a two-time all-conference runner, two-time all-district runner, and two-time state qualifier over the past two seasons.
Hankins looks to step up to take ownership of the boys side of the Holden high school cross country program.
“Rett is the clear number-one runner on the team,” says coach Kiger. “I think his improvement to make it to state last year really gave him a taste for where he wants to go this year. I think he has the chance to compete for one of the top runners in conference again, as well as the district. He will be doing everything he can to make state again this year and looks to finish higher than he did last year.”
Robinson joins the high school team after competing for the middle school team.
“Evan ran for the middle school team last year,” says coach Kiger. “He has been working hard all summer, and his biggest step will be to adjust to the longer race of the high school meets. Evan is a hard worker and has a desire to be really good.”
Coach Kiger recruited Samilin to join the team this season.
“I added Joseph Samilin just recently,” says coach Kiger. “He has to get his practices in, but I think that he can be good once he learns the sport. He might be a work in progress as he learns along with the rest of our team, but they just have to work for each other.”
A global impact on the boys team will come from foreign exchange students Costa and Petitpierre.
“Gerard Costa is from Spain,” says coach Kiger. “He looks like a good athlete. He’s a tough runner and works very hard in practice. I think he can help us get points. Noel Petitpierre is from Switzerland. He is also a very good athlete. He runs strong and is working very in practice. I think as the season evolves and he figures out pacing in a race, he can help us as well.”
The Eagles and Lady Eagles high school cross country teams open the season at the St. Mary’s Invitational Meet at St. Michael the High School this Saturday, September 1. The meet is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.