By Ben Murphy
Jack Pine Conference cross country powerhouse Clare looks to be primed for yet another strong season on the 5k course this season, with both boys’ and girls’ teams returning several key pieces.
The girls, under head coach Kyle McKown for his sixth straight season hope to win their fourth straight JPC title, win regionals like they did last season and get back to the state finals where they took 12th last year.
“We are excited to have our biggest team in school history and for the commitment that the team has made to work hard throughout the summer,” McKown said. “Our season’s success will be defined by how close of a bond that we are able to form as a collective group and the improvements that we will be able to make throughout the season. (We need to) continue to work hard and improve throughout the course of the season, to realize our potential and to believe.”
Returning from that team is Victoria Harper (senior, all-state, academic all-state, all-region, JPC MVP), Lindsay Winter (senior, academic all-state, first team all-conference, all-region), Robyn Stanley (senior, first team all-conference, second-team all-region), Amanda Yats (senior, all-conference honorable mention), Madison McPhee (sophomore, second team all-conference, second team all-region), Paige Gould (sophomore, second team all-conference), Olivia Walworth (junior), Samantha Gray (sophomore), Megan Sheredy (sophomore) and Angelica Krueger (sophomore).
“Harper returns for her senior season after finishing 21st in the division three state finals last year,” McKown, who feels Meridian will be their biggest threat to the JPC title said. “Winter also returns as a key leader of the pioneer group.. Stanley and Yats both return as senior leaders of an overall young Pioneer squad. We are very excited about the 15 newcomers that have joined our team this fall.”
McKown also had words for the supportive parents that help with the program.
“A big thank you goes out to all of our parents,” he said. “Your continued time, energy and support make the difference in the success that we are able to enjoy as a team.”
The boys’ team won their sixth straight JPC title last year, finished second in regionals for the third straight time and placed 13th at the state finals on top of earning academic all-state honors.
“This entire team is ready to do some special things,” sixth year head coach Adam Burhans said. “All of them are making marked improvements already. Each runner knows his role.”
Returning to the team are Hunter Nivison (senior, first team all-conference, all-region, all-state, 26th place finish in state meet), Kyler Phillips (junior, first team all-conference, all-region), Kevin Spicer-Torres (junior, first team all-conference, all-region), Chase Field (sophomore, all-conference honorable mention),Brock Demo (senior), Mike Wertheimer (junior) and Nick Wertheimer (sophomore).
New to the team are freshmen Ben Haupt and Scotty Baldwin.
“(We are) very confident, it’s a family, it doesn’t feel like practice,” Burhans said. “It feels like the expectations continue to be passed down and the teams that come through feed from the motivation. Each and every runner looks out for one another. Each and every runner wants to train smart and win.”
That being said the coach feels they have a good chance for yet another JPC title, assuming a few keys fall into place.
“Solid team unity, believable personal and team goals,” Burhans said. “Understanding early on that running is a craft and needs to be given the respect it deserves. Good old fashion hard work doesn’t hurt, either.”
Burhans would also like to see his team win a regional after coming up just short each of the past three seasons.
“Our goal is to win the conference and go after a regional which has just been out of our grasp the last few years,” he said. “We want to get back to the state meet and push for a solid team finish. This team has the talent to do it. Division three, for whatever reason on both the girls and boys side has probably been the toughest division in the state for awhile. This year is no exception. We have our work cut out for us.”
The Pioneers open the season Aug. 27 at the Chippewa Hills Invitational and host the Clare Invitational on Sept. 4 at MMCC where races are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.