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updated: 9/5/2013 4:49 PM

Scouting Tri-Cities boys cross country

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  • John Graft is back at the top of the Marmion lineup.

      John Graft is back at the top of the Marmion lineup.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Kyle Carter is one of four returning state runners for Kaneland.

      Kyle Carter is one of four returning state runners for Kaneland.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


A pair of new coaches are taking over this fall at two boys cross country programs that have been recent participants at the state meet.

At Marmion, Dan Klatt replaces Dan Billish who moved to Plainfield East. Klatt, who coached two years at Kent State as a student assistant, also worked with the Montini girls program a couple seasons.

The Cadets qualified for the Class 2A state meet in 2010, 2011 and 2012. But bumped up to Class 3A last year, Marmion was not able to advance out of regionals.

"Disappointing," Klatt said. "Weren't good enough to compete at the 3A level."

Klatt is optimistic the Cadets will have more success this year, mostly because of the following returnees, starting with senior John Graft who Klatt said could be one of the top 30 runners in the state.

Senior Eric Lifka is a team captain who had a very consistent summer, and junior Brady Bobbitt had an outstanding track season according to Klatt before breaking his collarbone.

Senior Ethan Young is another captain, and seniors Timmy Riordan and Kevin Grahovec also were in the top 12.

Klatt said sophomore Andrew Burroughs will push for the top seven while sophomore Jon Young, junior Paul Bancroft, sophomore Ben Michel and freshmen Andrew Lifka and Charlie Zimmer are all runners to watch both for this year and the future of the program.

"The strength of our team must be our commitment to one another," Klatt said. "We have a team that is capable of making history, but our success is dependent on our trust in one another and their belief in the process. If we do the work required each day and stay committed to one another, we will be very happy with where we finish the year."

Matt Sinnott helped take a West Aurora program that had not been to state in over 30 years to back-to-back trips to Peoria in 2011 and 2012. Last fall Omar Gomez made it to state as an individual.

Anthony Rizzo takes over for Sinnott after six years of coaching cross country at Neuqua Valley and West Aurora. He's a former two-time all-state runner at Schaumburg High School before earning 11 All-American honors in cross country and track at North Central College.

Sophomore Connor McCue and seniors Brady McCue, Joe Chavez and Max Held lead the West Aurora returnees while sophomores Rordan Stanton, Evan Castillo and EJ McLaren plus freshman David Castillo will form the core of Rizzo's first squad.

"We are strong in the mid-distance form of running," Rizzo said. "This strength will enable us to have a successful cross country season."

Rizzo said the team's goals are to qualify for state and run to the best of their abilities.

Elsewhere around the area, there's a lot of familiar coaches who return to their successful programs looking to add some more highlights in the 2013 season.

Batavia's Mike DiDomenico has six of his top seven runners back. While the Bulldogs will miss their lone state qualifier from last year Trevor Hollis, they do have several other experienced runners to build around.

Seniors Mitch Zabka, Chris Orlow, Jorden Berendt and Ricky Downs and juniors Ryan Wieties and David Morrison all figure to be key parts of the team especially if Morrison and Downs can recover from late-season track injuries.

Junior Patrick Redmond, senior Alec Cunningham, senior Nick Lowe, junior Brendan Kilgallen, senior Matt Jones and senior Mitch Voellinger are other runners who DiDomenico is hoping will help the Bulldogs make the jump from second place the past two years to the top of the Upstate Eight River Division.

"This is the deepest team that we have ever had and hopefully that will translate to a great year," DiDomenico said. "Our team goal is to win the conference and ultimately qualify our team to state."

While Batavia brings back nearly its entire lineup, both Geneva and St. Charles North will turn to some new faces. The Vikings graduated five of their top seven; the North Stars four of their top five and five of their top seven.

The new group of North Stars will try to follow in the footsteps of a 2012 squad that won the school's third straight conference championship, took second at both regionals and sectionals and once again qualified for state.

"We are a young team considering varsity experience," said coach Kevin Harrington who has seniors Nathan Klair and Kevin Davis back in the top seven. "(They had) an excellent summer and look to be running strong."

Harrington said the competition for the rest of the top seven is wide open and includes Austin Kyle, Peter Francissen and Joe Potocki, and juniors Hayden Joyce, Steve Lewandowski, Dylan Srocki, Max Markowicz, Justin Delgado and Danny Obernesser.

"The story of our season will be how our juniors run," Harrington said. "The good news and bad news is that we have a lot of competition to fill the top seven positions. This should keep our pack tight and keep the boys from getting complacent. On the other hand, we have at least 11 kids that have been working their tails off to get into seven spots."

Harrington said he does not anticipate any sophomores or freshmen cracking into the top group.

Geneva came on strong at the end of last season missing state by one spot at the sectional. Graduated senior Mike Bianchiana was Geneva's lone qualifier.

Vikings coach Bob Thomson turns this year to a nucleus including senior Blaine Bartel, senior Dan Dudman, senior Dan MacDonald, junior Justin Poythress and sophomore Steve Creger. Thomson likes his freshman class but said it's "too early to tell" where they'll fit in.

"We are young," Thomson said. "We are rebuilding a bit but feel that we will still compete. Batavia should be the favorite to win the River Division. Both St. Charles schools we be good as well with St. Charles East much improved."

That much improved St. Charles East team -- Harrington also mentioned how impressed he is with the Saints' strides -- returns 10 of coach Chris Bosworth's top 12 from last year back.

"Last year we did not end on a very good note," Bosworth said of their 16th-place finish at sectionals. "We should be much better. We put in a great summer of training running around 600-700 miles."

Bosworth said transfer Mike Skora from Joliet West will be a welcome addition to his lineup. Skora joins a group of returners led by front-runner senior Max Rowland, senior Lucas Werner, sophomore Mike Gerkin, sophomore Mark Sciurba, junior Will Muckian, senior Dan Wiitanen and junior Nick Hauptmann.

"The overall goals this year is to improve at every invite we go to and to be at our best come sectionals," Bosworth said. "Our group had a great track season which continued into the summer, which will hopefully lead to a great cross country season. We would love to have a strong two-to-seven pack. The hard work and dedication on this team has improved a ton from last year. We are looking forward to racing."

Kaneland enters the season after finishing 13th at the Class 2A state meet last year, fifth at sectional, second at regional and fourth in the Northern Illinois Big XII.

Knights coach Chad Clarey has Kyle Carter (48th at state), Nathaniel Kucera (103rd), Luis Acosta (139th) and Ryan Bower (165th) back from that team, all seniors.

Others fighting for a top seven position include seniors Phil Cutsinger and newcomer Brock Robertson. Juniors Andrew Lesak and Brandon Park have state series roster spots to defend, with Lesak coming off a track season that saw him as a first alternate for the state champion 3,200 relay that included Carter, Kucera and Acosta.

Clarey also is keeping an eye on younger runners sophomore Sean Spaetzel and freshman Michael Booton.

"Bringing back four capable seniors, we need to find a 5-6-7 that will work to match their intensity and experience," Clarey said. "Carter and Bower both didn't quite finish the cross season at their best due to injury and illness. Keeping healthy is a priority for this team, and we're tinkering with our workouts to try and promote a stronger finish to our campaign. We've seen the success of high mileage programs, and we've found success with that approach. Looking at the strengths of the runners that we have this year, we've decided to alter our approach, slightly."

"We need our seniors healthy at the end of the season, and if that's the case, we would like to be in the mix for one of the final qualifying spots in our ever-deep sectional up in Belvidere. There always seems to be 8-10 state worthy teams battling for the five places that earn berths to finals. We feel like we are in that mix, starting the season."

Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH.

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