When coaches say anything can happen or the title is up for grabs, sometimes it is just coach speak for not wanting to say a certain team is a favorite.
But when you say that about both boys and girls cross country races in the Tri-Eastern Conference this time around, the statement is likely most accurate.
Small-school powers Seton Catholic and Randolph Southern figure to be in the picture, as well, at invitationals through the season and during postseason competition.
And the Wayne County portion of the TEC picture starts with the powerhouse of recent years — Hagerstown.
For both the boys and girls teams, it is again high expectations for the charges of coach Kent Gray.
Sophomore standout Mason Bledsoe will lead a team of 13 boys for the Tigers, with a host of worthy contenders battling for the rest of the varsity scoring spots on this very deep team.
Among the varsity scoring hopefuls are fellow sophomore Jevon Osborne and senior Matthias Ritter. Then there is junior Zac Davis, a two-time all-TEC runner, and a group of others.
“This team has high goals, which I like,” Gray said of the Hagerstown boys. “They think they can win sectional as a team and perform well enough at regionals to advance to semistate as a team. I like how the team thinks, and works.”
For the girl Tigers, the graduation of four-year pacesetter Hayley Rogers leaves a smaller team, just seven runners, but Gray likes the quality of his remaining athletes.
“The girls we have are quality runners, and I think the team can contend for Wayne County and conference honors,” Gray adds. “But the TEC will be most competitive this year on the girls side.”
Senior Amelia Dick is the expected top performer for the Tiger girls, followed, most likely, by juniors Cassidy Robinson, Paige Gray and Gabby Willis.
At nearby Lincoln, coach Ron Puckett has an even smaller group of runners with just seven boys and five girls.
But the boys are paced by standout Trevor Gabbard, while the girls have the likes of Kassidy West, Macy Erlewein and Kelsey Cupp, runners who made their mark in the spring track season.
“Our numbers have actually increased on the boys side, but five of the boys runners are freshmen,” Puckett said. “This is a real hard-working group of kids, and I look forward to seeing how much they improve.”
As for the Golden Eagle girls, Puckett had this description.
“We have three returning runners, then a couple of freshmen to round out the team,” Puckett said. “Their attitudes and work ethic is similar to the boys, and I expect them to be very consistent this season.”
Mentioned by several coaches as a real threat for TEC honors this year is the much bigger and deeper Centerville team.
A dozen boys are working out for fourth-year coach Chris Evrard, with 10 girls forming that squad.
Senior work ethic and leadership skills are in evidence, Evrard says, from boys team pacesetter Brandon Dillman, as well as Shelby Short for the Bulldog girls.
“My two captains (Dillman and Short) are outstanding role models, very good runners who work hard and have good attitudes,” Evrard said. “It is enjoyable to coach teams with these kinds of kids on them.”
Classmate Caleb Sanford is a newcomer for the CHS boys who shows promising potential, and Dillman and Sanford are joined by fellow senior Josh Alvey and junior Sam Burton as strong hopefuls for the ‘Dogs this fall.
On the girls side, there is junior Ashley Toschlog to push Short, as well as promising freshman Kayla Newman.
“I am looking forward to an exciting season,” Evrard said.
An even bigger group of runners is competing for Northeastern and sixth-year coach Mark Kerkhoff.
A total of 16 runners are on the boys roster for the Knights, led by seniors Kessler Fisher and Jake Austerman, who are supported by junior Keith Rose; sophomores Mason Fisher, Quinton West and Garrett Anderson; and two promising freshmen runners, Gabe Beatty and Jacob Bartram.
For the Northeastern girls, there are 10 runners on the roster, led by juniors Ashley Jay, Hailey Coyle and Hannah Young, plus seniors Morgan Bartram, Katie Koch and Carson West.
But senior girls Koch and West are new to the team, while sophomore Maddie May is another varsity spot hopeful for NHS.
“Hagerstown has had a good run of success in the TEC and will be good again,” Kerkhoff said. “But I think we have the chance to be very competitive on both the boys and girls sides.”
Eight boys and nine girls are preparing for the season under the watchful eyes of returning coach Alan Bell.
For the boys, senior Evan Felton should lead the way, with junior Breydan Wicker back and healthy enough to run after missing last season. There are juniors Isaiah Spencer, Jake Antrim and Adam Kibbey; sophomore Dylan Poe; and freshmen Ravi Dare and Levi Logue to finish out the roster.
For a nine-member Patriot girls team, there are senior standouts Emily Goecke and Rene Risch, plus sophomore Sammy Crow, and freshmen Sammy Ramey, Addy Ellinger, Allysa West and Ramya Dare. Senior Peyton Waltz and freshman Anavey Antrim are new to the UC cross country program.
“The kids are working hard and looking good,” Bell said. “We are very fortunate to have quality depth, and the good athletes in our program.”
The husband-and-wife team of Al and Missy Williams are back for a second year coaching WCHS cross country, and an 11-member boys contingent is paced by junior Randy Beer and senior Jordan Yaryan.
The Golden Falcon girls squad is paced by senior Sophia Wickersham.
“Our kids continue to make good progress, and we hope to improve. We like our teams,” said Al Williams.
The Indians hope to make a splash at the TEC meet in early October. UC hosts the event at Harter Park on Oct. 4.
Earlier in the season, UC hosts its own invitational on Sept. 6.
Todd Barker begins a third season as the high school coach of the Cardinals, and high hopes are the rule of the day.
Seton has seven boys runners, more than enough for an official team, and the junior duo of Jacob Stamm and Jack Brenneke will again set the team’s pace, The other five runners are fellow juniors Daniel Rheinhardt and Marshall Bane, seniors Patrick Marsee and Matt Westjohn, plus sophomore Lucas Westjohn.
It is a young, but talented Seton girls team with four freshmen, plus senior foreign exchange student Paint Pirijkuldee. Jenna Barker will likely lead the performances by Cardinal girls, but be joined by freshman classmates Anna Stamm, Brooke Grey and Leann Brenneke.
“It will be exciting to see how our kids do as a team, and also individually,” Barker said of his charges.
The Cardinals run first on Saturday at IU East in the RHS Invitational, and many area teams are scheduled to compete in this meet.
For the third straight year, Sean Kennedy will lead the Rebel cross country team, and hopes are high, especially on the girls side.
Senior Tess Wise will pace the Southern girls, a team of 10 runners which includes freshmen standouts Makenzie Phenis and Zoe Fisher, along with sophomores Kennedy Kramer, Cameron Whitesel and Elizabeth Deckard. Also there is Morgan Retter, Mackenzie Bales, senior Natalie Wissel and junior Alexis Hurd.
“We have a girls team with runners who push each other, can run as a pack behind Tess, and has goals of winning the county meet, and the Mid-Eastern Conference,” Kennedy said. “It is a hard-working group, and the boys are much the same way.”
For the Southern boys squad, there are freshmen Jordon Smith and Caleb Toney, plus junior Arron Pearson, senior Chris Keister, Garrett Alka, Cody Brown, David Fisher and Rhett Jack.
The team competes first on Thursday at the Union Invitational. The Randolph County Meet is Sept. 30 at Monroe Central.