Another year and another talented crop of cross-country runners in the Fox Valley Conference.
The 2012 season figures to feature plenty of top area runners out of a conference that annually has a reputation for excellence in the sport.
One team that has the attention of area FVC coaches is Jacobs. The Golden Eagles, under the direction of coach Kevin Christian, finished third in the conference last year.
Key returning runners include seniors Ryan Ross, Matt Goldby and Pat Nerja, along with juniors Zach Johnson and Jon Godinez. Ross was 12th in the conference last year, Goldby 22nd, Nerja 26th and Godinez 36th. Johnson finished 25th at the county meet.
Top newcomers include senior Tyler Estell, along with juniors Matt Johnson, Josh Yelton and sophomore Sebastian Baran.
"The depth of the team is what is going to make us successful, especially without a top-of-the-conference runner like we've had the past two years," said Christian. "From the returners there are seven runners who ran 4:46 or faster in track, so it will be a pack mentality. This team could grab a lot of the middle all-conference spots. We could make a run at the FVC title if we can run consistently. If the pack ends up all at 16 minutes, it will not contend. But if they can finish with the pack around 15:30, they will be tough and possibly even earn a trip Downstate."
Off-season commitment also has paid off for Jacobs.
"We have never had such a large number of runners put in such a huge amount of summer miles," said Christian. "Hopefully it will pay off for them."
Dundee-Crown and longtime coach Tom Smith are coming off an 11th-place conference finish last year. The Chargers return seniors Tommy Halverson, Trevor Vogler and David Breyette, as well as sophomore Todd Noreen.
"We had a much better summer, showed racing improvement in track during the spring and we may have some underclassmen that step up and are in the mix by the end of the season," said Smith. "This group has a great attitude, is a great group of guys and is excited about the upcoming season."
Cary-Grove, seventh in the FVC last year, features seniors Ryan Adams, Daniel Sikora, Dustin Throw, junior Griffin Dempsey and sophomores Michael Saxon and Tyler Stordahl in the returning mix. Sophomore Sean Sullivan and freshmen Brandon Arwine, Ryan Pinter and Sang Seo will help.
"The guys have a strong sense of teamwork and working together," said Cary-Grove coach Layne Holter. "We have a nice mix of experience and new talent that will develop well throughout the season. We have been working our way back up the FVC ladder the last few years and we will improve again this year. Staying healthy will be an important component of our success as we come to the end of the season."
Huntley took ninth in the conference last year and returns senior all-conference and all-county performers Sam Marcuccelli and Trevor Obecny. Senior Ricky Lopez also is back. Senior Bryton Thompson and freshmen Keagan Smith and Seth Conroy are key newcomers.
Obecny was 25th in the conference and 19th in the county, while Marcuccelli was 30th in the conference and 23rd at the county meet.
"Our team has plenty of senior leadership," said Huntley coach Matt Kaplan. "This year we have some freshman runners who could make an impact on the varsity level. The team chemistry is very strong. Our team has high expectations for the season. We have the core varsity group returning from last year and we also have a hardworking group of frosh-soph runners who could end up helping the team at the varsity level. The team worked hard over the summer and we're looking forward to improving throughout the season."
Crystal Lake South was fourth in the Valley Division last year and sixth at the overall FVC meet. Seniors Duncan Henderson, Ian Meador, Nick Kopp and Joe Coughlin are back, along with junior David Lenzini. Seniors Will Davis, Luke Schingel, Kyle Madoni and junior Drew Kopfman are key additions.
South coach Rich Eschman noted Henderson and Kopfman put in good mileage over the summer, while Davis, Coughlin and Schingel also were active in the summer and should be improved this season. Meador and Lenzini were injured for most of the summer.
"I am hoping that we can battle McHenry and Jacobs for the Valley side of the conference," said Eschman.
Hampshire placed 10th in the conference last year and welcomes back senior Ross Seaton and sophomore Max Oury.
Seaton was a sectional qualifier and medaled at numerous invitationals. Oury won the Rockford East invite at the frosh-soph level and took second at the Ben Newson invite in Rockford (also at the frosh-soph level). Freshman David Del Re already has made an impact for the Whip-Purs.
"This is the biggest turnout since I've been the head coach at Hampshire," said coach Dennis Wozniak. "Our team is strong because of the high numbers of freshmen."
Wozniak said the team expects to qualify for the sectional and finish in the top half of the FVC Fox Division.
Upstate Eight Conference: Larkin coach Eric Hill saw many positives over the off-season.
"I believe we are going to have a strong year because we have a lot of dedicated athletes that put in the necessary hard work over the summer," he said. "Going into the season, this is probably the most prepared team we have had and the largest numbers-wise. The core leaders of our team put in a lot of miles over the summer and are ready to start racing and improving on their personal records."
Seniors Mitch Pepa, Ernesto Garcia, Jason Bauer, Jeremy Bauer and Hugo Olvera, along with juniors Cameron Powers and Sergio Ramirez are back. Newcomers that could make a difference on varsity are senior Luis Subias and junior Alex O'Claire.
"I am very excited about our underclassmen this year," said Hill. "Our numbers are up with interested freshmen and sophomores, so that bodes well for the future."
Hill goals and expectations are similar to those in 2011. "I want our runners to feel successful and keep improving on their bests, running their personal record toward the end of the season," he said. "I want our team to work well, I want us to have fun and finish in the top half at the conference meet. We also are hungry for another sectionals trip this year and perhaps even some state qualifiers."
Bartlett, under the direction of former longtime Streamwood girls' coach Ryan Korn, took fifth in conference last year. Seniors Conner Rachford and Mitch Sullivan were both part of the Hawks' state-qualifying 3,200 relay team in track. Senior Alejandro Hernandez and juniors Dan Cotton, Anthony Peters and Alex Peters also are back.
Senior John Mancinelli, juniors Matt Gray and Alex Isla are new to the team, as is sophomore Myles Zilinsky.
"Our strength is in our experienced runners coming back and the three guys (Rachford, Cotton and Peters) we'll have up front," said Korn. "We also have a deep team with about 12 guys that will be competing for the Top 7. Each of them has a chance to help make an impact for us."
Bartlett is looking to become only the second boys' team to qualify for state in the school's history. "We are also looking for a Top 3 team finish at every invite this season," said Korn. "The dedication this team showed all summer will help continue the success they had last year in both cross country and track."
Streamwood, seventh a year ago in the UEC River, welcome back senior Daniel Robles, juniors Jose Resendiz and Will Troman, along with sophomore Zel Salazar. Sophomore Steven Benitez and freshmen Roberto Douglas and Joseph Morris are key additions.
"We have good leadership from our upperclassmen," said Streamwood coach Weert Goldenstein. "Although our team is young, they enjoy running and are already learning what it means to work as a team. I see us getting better and better as the season progresses and our young guys learn the ropes and gain experience."
South Elgin welcomes back seniors Rhett Buchmiller and Nick LaMore, along with juniors Matt Stover, Jose Gonzalez, Jack Zaley, Matt McClure and Jimmy Hegarty, as well as sophomore Brandon VanBogaert. Many of the returning players were members of sectional-qualifying teams from the previous two seasons. "We have a strong foundation of young runners who are passionate about the sport. They are intrinsically motivated."
The Strom is looking to replace graduated senior Francisco Gonzalez who frequently came in with a low number during his tenure. "Without our front-runner there is a bit of uncertainty whether or not the team will qualify for sectionals as it has the past two years," said South Elgin coach Kari Turcan. "Matt and Jose (Gonzalez's cousin) have been working hard to bring their times down in hopes of keeping to the front of the finishers. Only time will tell if it is enough or not."
Others: Burlington Central is coming off a 2011 season where it took second in the Big Northern Conference. The Rockets will be aided by the return of senior Dan Morgan, junior Josh Schwarting along with sophomores Clay Musial and Kyle Nuebauer. Senior John Schmidt and freshmen Eric Johnson and Wes Matcalf are key newcomers.
"This year's mentality is on working together, training together and not letting anyone of the Top 5 drop off from one another," said Central coach Vince Neil. "In the past we have had many strong individual runners place well, but we could not pack up our team. This year the group understands that for us to perform well, we will need all athletes to step up together."
The Rockets missed a state team berth by a single point last year.
"Although we graduated quite a few guys, our boys who are still around have not forgotten that feeling," said Neil. "It is their motivator in practice to continue to push hard as a group."
Freshman Mike Lucas is looking to make an impact right away for Elgin Academy. "Mike is the younger sibling of a former athlete," said Hilltoppers coach Adrian Ayala. "With some guidance from his brother, he's started off the season ready to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."
Sophomore Habacuc Orozco returns for Westminster Christian. Key additions to the team include freshmen Adam Froeschke and Griffin Guge. "With an all-underclassmen boys' team, the willingness to work hard is establishing a strong base for future success," said Warriors coach Ron Froeschke.
Harvest Christian Academy returns senior Robert Doby and junior John Vislisel, who both were sectional qualifiers a year ago. Vislisel was a first-time runner last year. "Robert continuously set personal bests throughout last season," said Lions coach Steve Bland. "John is a tremendous athlete who originally joined the team to get in shape for basketball. He was a diamond in the rough."
Junior Jacob Schott and freshman Brett Cramer will also figure into the mix.
"Our boys have done much more running during the preseason than in years past," said Bland. "They are hungry and willing to endure high levels of hard work. Most importantly, they desire to win. We will look to contend for a top spot in our conference (NAC), advance out of our region as a team and send a few runners to the state meet."