ASHEVILLE – Prognosticators have been kind to Asheville High boys cross country in preseason state rankings.
But what the rest of the field for the NCHSAA 3-A meet doesn’t yet know? Yes, it may very well hurt them come November.
The Cougars are a veteran bunch with six key returnees from a 3-A Western Regional championship team in 2015 – Haven Honeycutt, Davis Turner, Collin Kemper, Isaiah First, Craig Kurowski and Soloman House. Analysts for NCRunners.com have pegged them as high as No. 10 among all state private and public-school teams.
Only one NCHSAA 3-A program (Chapel Hill) has been consistently ranked higher.
What hasn’t been factored is former NCISAA all-state runner John Kelly Douglas’ transfer from Carolina Day. The effect of that off-the-radar move will soon be felt. And it makes the Cougars an even-greater contender for their first team state championship in the sport since 1962.
The NCHSAA meet for all schools is Nov. 5 in Kernersville, a town just east of Winston-Salem.
Asheville runners are sequestered this week at Edisto Island (S.C.) where they are training for their first big meet. The Aug. 27 Western North Carolina Cross Country Carnival is less than two weeks away.
“We lost some great runners from last year but we return a lot, too. And with a great transfer coming in, it makes us even better,” said Turner, who is a junior.
“On paper, I think (the state polls) speak for themselves. I think we’re one of the top teams out there.”
Along with a regional championship, Asheville won last year’s Mountain Athletic Conference meet with a perfect score (15 points) and was also the Buncombe County team champ.
Honeycutt, who is a sophomore, came into his own last spring. He ran a personal record of 9 minutes, 37.44 seconds for the 3,200-meter run.
“Last year really helped build up my self esteem, and it really helps when you have so many guys who are committed to running as a team,” Honeycutt said.
“Our team this year is incredibly-strong. We’re all tight and a really good group. We’re ready to make a good mark. Davis and Colllin are really the leaders of this team, I’m just running with them.”
Longtime coach Chris Stroup is trying to manage expectations. But if everyone stays healthy, he, too, knows where this season might lead.
“We’re pretty excited about it. We weren’t really sure who was coming back, but late in the summer we started realizing that we were looking pretty good,” Stroup said.
“Of course, there are other teams out there who are going to have some additions like we have. But we’re still pretty excited about this team and what we can do. The guys are pretty-comfortable with one another and that’s a big plus. We’ll have a few early-season meets which will give us an idea of where we’re at.”