The five Cecil County high schools will kick off the cross country season on Sept. 10.

CHESAPEAKE CITY — Replacing graduated athletes is always a common theme during the following high school preseason.

Given the runners who walked the stage last spring for Bohemia Manor, the task will be a challenging one for Eagles cross country coach Steve Pizzulli.

Former All-County Runners of the Year Zach Laird (2017) and Alex Longeway (2018), who combined to capture a pair of individual state championships and help the Eagles win a pair of team state crowns over four years, have departed, along with All-County runner Ryan Fitzwater.

The program will now look to a key group of returners and one notable newcomer as it sets out in pursuit of another dominant campaign.

“The seniors last year bought into the hard work mentality here at ‘The Manor.’ It is always interesting to see new ones step into that role as leaders and how similar they are as the ones that just left. Seniors will always be missed, but we focus on the members of the team that we have right now and prepare accordingly,” said Pizzulli, who noted the graduated runners both learned from the culture and added to the culture.

Seniors Jacob Jarrell and Alex Luzetsky and junior Colin McArthur return as the main contributors. Day Leone switched from soccer after a very successful freshman track season.

The all-important fifth runner remains up in the air.

“There is always an expectation on the team, whether from themselves or others. Winning is the goal, and we have the potential with this group,” Pizzulli said. “It will be up to them if they are willing to pay the price and, of course, [get] that little bit of luck needed to win a championship.”

The girls return every member from an Eagles squad that won the 1A East Region crown and placed fifth at States a year ago.

“We are excited to see what type of improvement we can see. We didn’t have any freshmen show up on the girls’ side, but hope that when school starts we can pick up a few,” Pizzulli said. “Seniors Reagan Goldsmith and Aubrey Preske are both back for their fourth season. Also having more senior leadership with Aubrey Dimaio and Morgan Koehler is outstanding.”

Former Blue Hen takes over Tigers XC

NORTH EAST — Jill McKay’s head coaching debut will take place just 14 miles from where she competed as an NCAA Division I student-athlete.

The former University of Delaware runner has taken over the Rising Sun cross country program, picking up the reigns just three weeks before the start of the new season.

“I am over-the-moon excited to be coaching cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field at Rising Sun High School, said McKay, who most recently worked as an assistant coach for the running programs at Kennett High in Pennsylvania. “‘I’ve run every distance race from the 400-meter run to a full marathon (26.2 miles). I’ve been a runner for 30 years. Coaching makes me feel like I’m home. These kids are fabulous, as humans, and I’m honored to be a part of their journey.”

McKay will be tasked with moving on without the county’s top female runner from a year ago. Rising Sun’s Emma Cease graduated after earning All-County Runner of the Year honors. She paced the five schools with wins in the Cecil County Invite and Susquehanna Division Meet and a top-20 mark in the 2A State Championships.

While she’s no longer wearing orange and black, the former standout has helped the team gear up for the new campaign.

“I got to meet Emma as she came out to cheer on the team before she left for college. Her heart is still with the team and they all think of her fondly,” McKay said. “Our ladies team is actually fairly small this year.

“I’m still getting to know all of our runners. We did time trials today, and I’m super excited to see how these kids improve,” she added. “They are sore, tired and anxious for our first meet. We have many new faces new to running in general. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing a ‘non-runner’ learn to love the sport and set new goals to conquer. This is a great time of the season.”

McKay will lean on returner Heather Horst, who earned All-County honors last year as a freshman.

“Heather is strong, healthy and working hard,” McKay said. “[Her teammates] Kennedy Adam and Emilie Marinko are also showing Heather some great camaraderie and friendly competition,” McKay said. “I’m especially eager to see what [newer runners] Sarah Clark, Alexis Brewer, McKayla Bennett, Julia Forsmark, Katherine Seversen, Kaitlin Perry, Emily Stewart and Maddy Stewart will do. We all still need some time for conditioning, but I’m eager to see what competition will bring for them.”

McKay will look to returner Cade Milburn to anchor the boys’ team.

“Sean Brown and Erik Iwerson also are looking promising,” she noted. “ But I don’t want to rule anyone out — we have a lot of new runners who don’t even know what they are capable of achieving yet, both with the ladies and gentlemen. I need a year in the hallways getting to know faces and convincing them to give running a try.”

Ramierez, Ayers set to lead Indians

NORTH EAST — The North East girls’ cross country roster will only feature two runners in 2019.

Fortunately for the Indians, they’re both All-County athletes.

Junior Brooke Ayers and senior Yailynn Ramierez return with their sights set on postseason success.

“[They’re] focused on qualifying for the Maryland State Championships,” North East head coach Jessica Sprout said. “Brooke was just outside of qualifying last year and is hungry for the chance to compete against the best in the state. Returning for her senior season, Yailynn Ramirez is looking to a fourth trip to the state championships at Hereford. She is focusing a great deal on form and strength to remain healthy throughout the season. Her experience at the state level will be invaluable to the rest of the team as we get into the later parts of the season.”

On the boys’ side, the Indians return juniors Trent Khanjar, Isiah Moore, Aidan Fleischhacker and Logan Martin and sophomore Greyson Carew.

“They are all coming in stronger to start the season. Their experiences last year are going to serve them well this fall and we are hoping that they will also qualify for states this season,” Sprout said. “This year’s team has also seen the addition of several new junior athletes, including track team member Drew Krasman, who are complementing the team dynamic. Our boys team is fairly large and more evenly matched; they have been pushing each other and working together to become faster and stronger. Their teamwork is going to pay off tremendously throughout the season. Several new freshmen are preparing to step into the shoes of the upperclassmen when their time comes.”

Sprout will use a series of mid-season invitationals, including the Gunpowder Fall Classic and the Cecil County Invite, to gauge the growth of the team.

The focus will remain on the 2A East Region Meet at year’s end, she explained.

These large invitationals give us an opportunity to evaluate our progress and see how we compete in larger meets. A more talented field encourages everyone to push harder and fight for position. These invitationals bring more energy and the increased number of competitors in each race allows athletes to race against someone throughout the entire course. We can work on race tactics and practice the strategies we will need to be successful at the region meet,” Sprout said. “ As always, we look forward to the County Invitational, but our eyes are focused on the region meet. Held once again at Cambridge, the region meet is what we work for and our team will steadily improve and get faster on the way to a strong performance at the region meet. We have two months to get this team in a position to qualify for states.”

Panthers plan to build with young roster

PERRYVILLE — The Perryville cross country squad may endure growing pains this season.

The graduation of All-County runner Brian Kennan leaves little experience on the Panthers’ boys team, which will look to a core of underclassmen to guide the lineup into the upcoming campaign.

“Brian was influential with his drive to constantly improve not only his fitness in running, but overall lifestyle when it came to being the best he could be on the team,” Panthers head coach Raissa Moore said. “The goal for the boys’ team this season is to simply work together as young runners to build up the team when they are upperclassmen.”

Moore will lean on sophomore Matt Grahe, who broke the school’s freshman 800-meter record during track this past outdoor season, junior Michael Pierce and sophomore Chase Rondone.

On the girls’ side, Moore will coach a smaller, yet more veteran squad.

“The girls’ team has the older runners [compared to] the boys. Even though the numbers are small, all of them at this point are focused and ready to take on the training,” said Moore, highlighting senior Abbie James and Hailey Sewell and junior runners Leah Clark and Josie Scramlin.

Moore hopes that a strong season this year can vault the team into the Chesapeake (upper) Division.

“The mid-season race we like to use [as a measuring stick] is the Susquehanna Division Meet. It is one of the bigger meets that gives the athletes the opportunity to race against more schools with the motivation for opportunity to possibly move up to the Chesapeake Division,” Moore said. “We are well into the rhythm of training at this point, and typically the top seven usually start to establish themselves by this point.”

Trio of All-County runners set to lead Elks

ELKTON — The Elkton cross country team will a new-look lineup in 2019.

“This year will prove to be one of many challenges,”Elks coach Paul Riggio said. “We do have some major holes to fill coming into this season, but regardless of our deficit or changes to our roster — let’s tip our caps to our past runners as they accomplished some amazing feats for us — our focus will always be on those we have currently.”

Senior Tyler Vega is primed for a big year after earning All-County honors last fall. He has settled in as the leader on the Elkton boys’ roster.

“He looks fit and I know he worked hard this summer, upping his mileage to be able to handle this year’s challenges,” Riggio said of Vega. “In building off spring track and summer training, he is seeking to be able run with some of the top boys within our region. Tyler brings tremendous leadership skills and work ethic to the team.”

On the girls’ side, juniors Sadie Marra and Esther Greenblatt are back after All-County campaigns, while sophomore Lily Miller is showing promise.

“In those three we have the horses, but having a single or three great runners, we will be in the same position as last year if we aren’t able to develop a fourth and fifth girl to step up,” Riggio said. “We’ll see who all are willing to accept that challenge. It won’t be easy but I’m confident that we will exhaust every opportunity to achieve that.

“What I most want to accomplish for this group is to develop a team that will be accountable, focused and willing to make the sacrifices necessary for us to grow together,” he continued. “To achieve any timed, placing, or advancement goals, those standards must be met foremost. In that, we do have some great individuals that could build said team culture.”

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