Natalie Prye isn’t a vocal leader for Wilson Memorial’s girls cross country team.
According to Green Hornets head coach Gary Kessler, she doesn’t need to be.
“Natalie sets a fine example for all of us,” Kessler said. “She leads us when she’s running and she does things for the team behind the scenes.”
Prye and her teammates have a long season ahead of them — a season in which they could make a lot of noise outside the Shenandoah District.
The Green Hornets, along with Buffalo Gap and Stuarts Draft, will have their usual tough competition in Conference 36. Riverheads, meanwhile, faces one more year in Conference 44 before the VHSL returns to the district format in 2017.
The Green Hornets finished the 2015 season with strong efforts at the conference, region and state meets. They were the winners in Conference 36, placed third in Region 2A East and ended the season with a sixth-place finish in the Group 2A meet.
The goal this season is to be a little bit better at the end, and Kessler said his runners are preparing like they want it to happen.
“They had a good summer of running,” he said, “and we have good experience in the top seven.”
Prye’s junior season was impressive. It included a second-place finish in Conference 36, 13th place at Region 2A East and a 21st-place finish at Group 2A. She and Lauren Clayton provide the senior leadership for Wilson.
Emilie Miller, who won the state title in the 100 hurdles in Group 2A in the spring, and Olivia Farley are junior who have emerged as key scorers for the Hornets. At the inaugural Valley Cup relay meet Aug. 20, they teamed with Prye and sophomore Spencer Tuttle to win the title.
Tuttle and junior Erica Sanders are both returning runners for Wilson.
Kessler has some solid newcomers, most of whom ran last year as eighth-graders. Ashtyn Davis, Paige Miller and Basia Schrauder are three solid freshmen, while sophomore Chloe Surratt is out for the first time.
With a nucleus of four returning runners, the Gladiators’ final season in Conference 44 could be a good one.
Last year’s team took third place in the conference meet to qualify for the Region 1A East meet. The team finished seventh, but did send two runners — Kordelia Hunsberger and Veronica Ferguson — to the Group 1A meet at Great Meadow, where they finished 18th and 22nd, respectively.
Returning with Ferguson, a junior, and Hunsberger, a sophomore, are junior Jodi Jones and sophomore Emma Grubb. Jones finished 16th at the conference meet and 37th at regions.
Their experience is an asset for us,” said Doris Scott, who takes over as girls coach this year. “They’re looking to improve and they’re working hard with the new runners.”
There are three newcomers to go with the experienced quartet — sophomore Jordan Jones and freshmen Celeste Salton and Madison Walton.
The Bison, who finished fifth at the Conference 36 meet last year, also have some returning talent that went far at the end of the year.
Tiffany Simmons, a sophomore this year, and junior Marybeth Strickler finished seventh and 18th, respectively, at the Conference 36 meet to qualify for the Region 2A East meet. Also returning is Anna Cahill, the lone senior on the team, who placed in the top 40 at the conference meet.
Those three teamed with newcomer Annika Fisher to place 12th at the Valley Cup meet Aug. 24. Simmons had the 13th best time individually.
The other newcomers include sophomore Cassie Daniel and a pair of eighth-graders — Livvy Blackwell and Ally Armstrong.
The Cougars were young last year, but those young runners are back this year with a season of experience in their pockets.
Seniors back include Courtney Beadles and Mariah Hoy. Beadles ended her season last year with a 26th-place finish at the Conference 36 meet.
Sophomore Hannah Chatterton, who finished a strong 17th at the conference meet, is back, along with classmate Jordan Ramsey and junior Maddie Renner.
Also on the roster are junior Britney Young and freshmen Fiona Hall and Cali Morris.
“This is a hard-working group,” said head coach Allison Sprouse. “They’re really pushing each other to improve.”