By John Lemon
The numbers are headed in the right direction for the St. Charles East boys cross country program.
Coach Chris Bosworth's team has 70 kids out this fall, up from 54 last year.
The Saints are coming off qualifying for state for the first time since 1999.
That's after breaking through with conference and regional championships the year before.
No doubt it's a good time to be a Saint.
"Summer training has gone really well," Bosworth said. "This year we return eight out of the top 12, with the top three from state coming back. We will be a deep team this year with around 15 to 20 kids fighting for a top 12 spot."
Three seniors are back who were St. Charles East's top three at state: Mark Sciurba, Jack Rzpecki and Michael Gerkin. Junior Jake Beno was the Saints' sixth runner at state.
Juniors JB Sandund and Anthony Zilla, sophomores Rohan Patel, Cole Adesso and Campbell Koch, and seniors Evan Patel and Alex Thomas will be fighting for a top seven spot.
Bosworth said two newcomers, senior Bret Izzo and sophomore Kyle Izzo, add to the team's depth and could be in the top group by the end of the season.
"(We are) focused on the process throughout the season, take it one day or meet at a time," Bosworth said. "Focus on the little things that will make us better, and be ready at the end of the season (for the) state series."
St. Charles East won't have to look far to find solid competition with rivals in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division like Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles North.
Like the Saints, Batavia also is coming off a state appearance -- the school's second straight and just second in its history.
"The season has been going well so far," Batavia's second-year coach Bronco Meeks said. "We have a good group of young men. They have been putting in the hard work that is necessary to be successful this year. We are very excited to see what they can accomplish.
"This should be a very young team, with a potential four sophomore athletes competing on varsity. It should be fun watching them grow over the course of the season. As a team they have set a goal to return to the state meet. Returning to Detweiller this year would be an incredibly valuable experience for such a young group."
In addition to qualifying for state in 2014, Batavia also tied for its highest finish in the conference meet (second place), had the highest sectional finish (third) and had its highest state finish (22nd).
Batavia will have to replace Ryan Wieties, the individual Upstate Eight River champion, and David Morrison and Patrick Redmond, both all-conference runners.
The Bulldogs return Shea Bastian, who also was all-conference last year and during the track season won the River title in the 1,600 while running a 1:59 in the 800 and 4:29 in the 1,600 at sectionals.
"Shea will lead the way," Meeks said. "Shea had a fantastic junior year, finishing with all-conference honors in cross country. Shea also showed growth during the 2015 track season."
Bastian will be joined in the lineup by senior Zach Choffin, junior Keaton Keller and sophomore Sean Adams.
"Zach and Keaton have improved over the course of the past year," Meeks said. "They have also become leaders on the team this year. They have done a tremendous job of encouraging our younger athletes, and helping them grow."
"Sean has looked very impressive this summer. He along with sophomore Jack Gillerlain have stepped into our two and three spots during most of our summer workouts. We look for both of these young men to have dramatic drops in their times over the course of the season."
Others competing for spots in the top seven include Gillerlain along with fellow sophomores Shane Knanishu and Nolan Evans, seniors Michael Bock and John McElmeel, and junior Jake Fehrenbacher.
Meeks said freshmen Hunter Barth, Reid Coyle and Ben Barranco will be some of the top runners at the frosh-soph level.
"This year we return four of last year's top seven," Meeks said. "Leading the way for filling in the vacated varsity spots are three sophomores (Gillerlain, Knanishu, Evans). Last year was a bit of a growing year for our sophomore group, but over the course of the 2015 track season and the past summer, they have really become strong runners. We feel they are ready for a breakout 2015 cross country season. Seniors John McElmeel and Mike Bock, and junior Jake Fehrenbacher also are competing for varsity positions."
Geneva graduated state qualifier Mitchael Deamantopulos now running at UIC but still comes into the season with more seniors than recent years. The group includes Brian Caskey, Julian Desens and Jake Tracey.
Juniors Tyler Dau and Brian Kuehl and sophomore Boon Andrews also have experience.
"It's been a few years since I've been able to say this but we are finally returning a nice group from last season with varsity experience," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "We have gaps in our top 7-10 and have several of our runners that have made nice improvements to challenge for those spots."
Two freshmen -- Josh Rodgers and Ryan Kredell -- could challenge. Thomson said both broke five-minute miles in their 8th grade conference track meets.
Geneva added meets at Wauconda and Peoria Notre Dame to its schedule that starts once again Sept. 5 at the Leavey Invite at LeRoy Oakes.
"Our expectations are high this season with so much experience returning," Thomson said. "We have five returning boys that broke 16 (minutes) at last year's sectional where we finished ninth. We haven't had a returning group like this for several years. We have very good leadership among our top seniors and the team wants to make it back to state which as a team hasn't happened for a few years. Our sectional is usually tough with most of the teams having consistent state quality teams so we know it will be competitive."
St. Charles North is coming off a self-described disappointing season and is looking forward to getting back on track.
"We underperformed last year, so we are focused on being a competitive team," North Stars coach Kevin Harrington said.
The North Stars return four seniors who ran varsity last year: Jose Rangel, Michael Boone, Tyler Tomich and Carter Stibgen.
They have newcomers in all four classes. Seniors Tyler Cabrera and Trevor Tomich, juniors Brett Lee, Luke Sutherland and Luke Zanis, sophomore Bo Ruttens and freshman Edgar Santiago are all in competition for a spot in the top seven.
"This year could certainly be a tossup for who earns a varsity uniform on any given Saturday," Harrington said. "We have some strong underclassmen that could end up top five as well as a variety of juniors and seniors that are on the cusp of a breakout season."
Harrington doesn't mind if the North Stars come into the season under the radar.
"We should not be on anyone's preseason best list, but we should certainly get better every meet," Harrington said. "It will be fun to see where we are at when the middle of October rolls around. Our team is approaching 60 athletes, so the numbers are way up, and we are trying to match that growth with a proportional growth in commitment and performance."
Marmion has come close to qualifying for the Class 3A state meet the past two years and hopes this could be the year it makes that jump.
"Our primary challenge as a group is to continue to focus on the process as opposed to the outcome and respond instead of react to adversity," Marmion coach Dan Klatt said. "One of our outcome goals is to accomplish that feat (state) this year. It's time. We have great potential as a team to compete at the highest level in the state, and as long as we focus on the aforementioned process and the habits that lead to personal improvement, we will be very pleased with the final results."
Senior Andrew Burroughs, sophomore Michael Ronzone, junior Andrew Lifka, junior Charlie Zimmer, senior Christian Surtz and junior Jimmy Milder make up the core of the team.
"Andrew (Burroughs) has worked extremely hard to improve each year and I believe he has terrific potential going forward. He is hungry and ready to make an impact on the Illinois distance running scene. Most importantly, I look for him to lead us on and off the course," Klatt said.
"Michael had a solid freshmen year. He has put the work in to make another nice jump this year and establish himself as one of the better runners in the state. Andrew has followed up a very good sophomore track season with an even better summer. He has proved to be a stabilizing force for us as a runner and leader."
Klatt said Zimmer is healthy after an injury sidelined him last year. "He is very talented and his work this summer may culminate in performances that catch some by surprise," Klatt said. "Christian has dedicated himself to his teammates and has put together a very impressive summer. He is one of our glue runners this year, and I look forward to watching him enjoy the fruits of the work he has put in. Jimmy is one of the toughest runners at Marmion, had a slow start to the summer but has come on over the last few weeks. I look for him to continue to grind for his teammates."
Other runners who trained hard this summer and will compete for a varsity spot include sophomore Sean Galle, senior Josh Ruddy, junior Anthony Giomietti, sophomore Ryan Conti, junior David Farrell, senior Michael Witte, senior Dan Heineman, senior Kyle Yorke and sophomore Liam Kelly.
Marmion added the Palatine Invitational and the Chicago Catholic League meet to the schedule.
"We have a solid group at the top, but we need more guys to step up to round out our varsity team," Klatt said.
In Class 2A, Kaneland missed qualifying for state last year by 8 points. The Knights took third in the Northern Illinois Big XII met.
Senior Austin Kintz is back after a strong track season when he took fifth in the state 1,600. He was two places away from making state in cross country running a 15:33.
Also returning are sophomore Matthew Richtman who ran a 15:39 at sectional and also had a good track season. Senior Sean Spaetzel, junior Andrew Kantola and senior Will Kuipers round out the five returnees from last year's sectional team.
Joining the mix will be juniors Noah Duffey and Anthony Messina, and seniors Zach Kurz and Matt Kainrath. Kaneland coach Chad Clarey said sophomores Sam Webster and Henry Nosek have the potential to contribute at the end of the season.
"Our top two runners look great on paper, given what they did at the end of the season last fall, as well as in the spring," Clarey said. "They have a combined nine races at the varsity level. This lack of experience will be something that we work to address as the year unfolds. Kintz took some time this summer to attend a running camp at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, and he's been working very hard at bringing the team on board with new core strength routines. All of our seniors have done an exceptional job of both leading our summer training as well as the strength training program that we've adapted this fall."
Clarey expects Yorkville and Sterling along with DeKalb and Geneseo to provide challenges once again in conference.
Aurora Central Catholic is counting on a strong pack this fall. The Chargers welcome back juniors Henry Feldhaus, Josh Jerwers and Matt Mendoza, sophomore Daniel McCully and seniors Rueben Franco and Scott Becker. Coach Troy Kerber calls McCully an "emerging star."
Aurora Central also has several promising newcomers including junior Sam Pawlowski -- who Kerber said could be in the team's top three -- freshman Tony Cepeda, sophomore Austin Dickson, juniors Jon Montelongo and Caleb Minx, and sophomore McKimmon Englehardt.
"The verdict will still be out for awhile heading into the early season, as we look to get back to state caliber level this season," Kerber said. "The strength will be in the pack for this particular team. I am hoping that someone will emerge as a legitimate front-runner as the season goes on. If that happens we can be strong at the end of the year."