Teams, runners set to chase elusive Panthers
The 2012 DODDS-Europe cross country season gets under way this weekend at seven locations. At a race last year Kaiserslautern's Michael Lawson, the eventual winner, leads the pack at the start of a race in Kaiserslautern.
When it comes to predicting who’ll win the 2012 European high school cross country championships, go ahead and round up the usual suspects.
If you can catch them, that is.
As the 2012 challengers freely acknowledge, that won’t be easy. Patch, the Division I boys’ and girls’ champions in 2011, and Naples, which swept both D-II titles last time around, are once again loaded as the new season opens Saturday at seven sites across the continent, and the Brussels girls are-all-but-intact from the team which won a third straight D-III crown in 2011.
“We have 1-2-10 from Europeans back this year,” emailed Patch girls’ coach Tom Manuel, adding that the challenge is filling the missing spots.
Patch posted an astounding five perfect-15 scores in 2011. The first four girls in the championship, led by 2011 champion Baileigh Sessions and 2010 champion Morgan Mahlock, across the finish line last October wore Patch jerseys.
Sessions and Mahlock, along with their teammate Samatha Bargloff, No. 10 last year and likely to move up this time around, are back.
Patch’s two-time champion boys, who ended Ramstein’s 10-year reign atop D-I in 2010, also have punch for coach Philip Bailey in returning bronze-medalist Tyler Gamble and No. 10 Mitchell Bailey.
Challenging the champs in D-I will be Kaiserslautern, led by European 1,600-meter champion Michael Lawson; Vilseck, paced by top-15 finishers Ben and Michael Nelson and newcomer Alex Denikiewicz from Munich International School; Ramstein, where the numbers are always helpful, and growing Wiesbaden, the consensus says.
On the girls’ side in D-I, Lakenheath is fueled by Top-10 returnees Marra Yancey and McKayla Boden, Wiesbaden will benefit from the transfer in of Heidelberg’s Anna Seiferth; Ramstein welcomes back No. 8 Lexy Vermiere, and Vilseck qualifier Malia Carson is joined by her younger sister, freshman Kirsten.
In Division II, look for the Naples girls to roll again.
According to Naples coach Chip Noonan, freshman Isabella Melendez, who won regularly as a middle school exhibition runner last year, joins experienced runners Destiny Mora, Amber Sheline and Isabella Lucy.
“The girls’ team is deep, well-motivated and working hard,” Noonan emailed. “…(T)he girls are as good as any of our past teams and are well-equipped to defend their title.”
The Naples boys aren’t is well-stocked after the loss of last year’s Nos. 2 and 5 finishers. Noonan’s counting on newcomers to carry his colors.
In Division III, look for a real dogfight, according to Alconbury coach Bud Foutz, whose boys finished five points behind champion Ankara in 2011 after going unbeaten against D-III teams during the regular season.
Ankara is battling numbers issues, this year, and Alconbury has four returnees, led by Ben Nelson – who’s no relation to Vilseck’s Ben Nelson – and a promising freshman, Wesley Reddcliff.
“Last year, I might have jinxed us when I said it was our best team,” Fouts rued by telephone on Wednesday, “but this one is my best team.”
Challenging the Dragons will be Rota, which has turned an astonishing-for-D-III 34 runners out for cross country.
The Brussels girls return four of their top five runners from last year, three of whom qualified for Europeans in 2011. Leading them is Ali De Fazio, 19th in Europe last year.
Brussels coach Chris Vahrenhorst is concerned by challenges from Baumholder, new to D-III this year and Incirlik, which gave the Brigands all they wanted last year. Sigonella has a new runner, freshman Stateside transfer Samantha McManus, of whom Sig coach Gene Rinaldi expects big things.
We’ll find out who handles oxygen debt best Oct. 27 at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Baumholder, where the European meet will be run for the first time.