TERRE HAUTE — If you see Steve DeGroote at a high school cross country meet in the next couple months, wish him well and give him a hug because this is his farewell to coaching West Vigo athletics.
Starting his 28th season of guiding the West Vigo girls cross country team, DeGroote has taken a volunteer assistant-coaching position with the Indiana State University baseball program. A former boys and girls basketball coach and more recently the head baseball coach of the Vikings, he told the Tribune-Star that this girls cross country season will be his last of any sport at West Vigo.
Asked about any sentimental feelings he might have, DeGroote preferred to focus on helping the girls on the 2013 team than himself.
“We’re just a little behind,” he assessed after the Vikings’ season-opening 15-45 home loss to Greencastle on Tuesday. “But I think we’re going to be OK. I think by sectional time [Oct. 15 at LaVern Gibson Championship Course], we’ll make a push at advancing to the regional.”
With that in mind, here is a look at the girls and boys cross country teams from Vigo County and Northview high schools:
• Northview — Third-year coach Rexanne Laue has at least one state-finals hopeful on the Knights this season as they prepare to debut today in the Bloomington North Early Bird Meet at the Gibson course in Vigo County.
Northview is led by that hopeful, junior Ashley Kidwell, as well as junior Emily Conrad. Beyond that is a bunch of inexperienced runners — junior Ashley Arnold (first year in cross country) and freshmen Chelsea Hines, Abby Conrad (Emily’s younger sister), Kourtney Johnson and Julia Smith.
“We’re a very young team,” Laue admitted. “Individually, I think my top two runners will go far.”
Looking at the Western Indiana Conference, Laue acknowledged that winning the team championship would be a longshot. “I’m hoping I have two or three girls who get in the top 10 [individuals],” she added.
• Terre Haute North — Beginning his 13th season at the helm, coach Mike Dason has guided the Patriots to the IHSAA state finals for the past nine years, including a 12th-place finish in 2012.
“It’s just an expectation here,” Dason mentioned. “Our goal now is to do well at state.”
This doesn’t appear to be a year to bet against them making it 10 in a row at state, even though several key runners have graduated since last season.
“I truly think this can be one of our better seasons,” Dason insisted. “We did lose a lot [to graduation] … but our athletes have stepped it up this year.”
Key returnees are senior Jessi Conley (69th in the state last season), sophomore Lindsay Welker (99th in the state) and senior Mallory Sanders (137th in the state).
“We’ll have a pack of three in the front,” Dason explained. “And we’ll have a pack of about eight after that.”
The next pack he spoke of is likely to consist of senior Laura Johnson, freshman Devon Zeck (from Woodrow Wilson Middle School), freshman Hannah Bunch (from Otter Creek), senior Erin Buckallew, senior Kenzie Smokstad, sophomore Keeleigh Stigall, sophomore Sarah Coletti and sophomore Morgan Morris. Dason added that freshman Janan Zaher (Woodrow Wilson) recently started practicing and could join that tightly bunched group soon.
Another returnee, sophomore Anna Nagy, has a hip injury and is expected to miss the first 3-4 weeks of the season.
“This will be our overall fastest team if you take the average time of everyone on the team,” Dason emphasized.
Ranked No. 19 in the state in the indianarunner.com preseason poll, the Patriots will have their first 2013 meet Aug. 31 in the Franklin Community Invitational.
• Terre Haute South — Eighth-year coach Ed Jarvis, whose Braves finished 22nd in the state last season, hopes to close the gap on Terre Haute North this season, although he realizes the Patriots will be difficult to catch because of their depth of talent.
“This is easily the best team I’ve ever had in coaching,” Jarvis proclaimed. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together and we can’t wait to get this first race in [the Bloomington North Early Bird Meet today].”
The Braves are paced by seniors Katie Schmidt (121st in the state last year), Nikki Thiede (124th in the state), Sam Holmes (166th in the state) and Nicole Howe, junior Natalie Shanks (158th in the state) and sophomores Kirsten Peterson (142nd in the state), Katie Barton and Aydee Dalina (146th in the state).
Jarvis said the often-injured Thiede might be returning to her old form, which would be bad news for South competitors.
“I think she’s in the best shape she’s been in since the fall of her freshman year,” the Braves’ coach noted.
As for Schmidt, “ Jarvis said: “She’s really came on last spring. She’s been able to train through when Nikki’s been hurt the last couple years.”
Jarvis also mentioned that this most likely will be Peterson’s final season on the team because her family is wanting to move out of town.
• West Vigo — As stated earlier, DeGroote said his girls are “just a little behind” but shouldn’t need much time to catch up to their Wabash Valley competitors.
His top runners include seniors Shaelynn White and Taylor Bunch and junior Shelby Sparks. DeGroote also thinks a newcomer to the team, senior Kortney Brown, should make an immediate impact.
Others capable of making some noise are senior Katie Jones, junior Amanda Bridgewater and sophomore Shelby Edington, who also plays basketball and softball at West Vigo.
The Vikings evened their record at 1-1 Thursday by defeating Sullivan 21-38 and will run again Sept. 7 in the State Preview Meet at the Gibson course.
• Northview — Serving as boys coach since 2007, Chad Smith said senior Nic Yocom is a strong candidate to qualify for the state finals this season.
“He’s probably in the best shape he’s been in and the healthiest he’s been since he’s been here,” Smith said.
Other key returnees include senior Ian Heffner and sophomore Cam Trout — expected to battle for the second and third spots on the team — while senior Travis Beil should be in the mix as well.
“We’ve got four seniors,” Smith pointed out. “We’ve got some good returnees coming back and we expect to run well as a teaam this year. We’re hoping to win the WIC [Western Indiana Conference].
Last year, we were runner-up. This year, we’re hoping we can kind of sneak in there and win the title.”
Like many other teams, the Knights will compete for the first time today in the Bloomington North Early Bird Meet.
• Terre Haute North — Ranked 28th in the state in the indianarunner.com preseason poll, North hopes to advance one step farther than the semistate, where its season ended a year ago.
Third-year coach Tom Dever praised No. 1 runner Peter Davis, a junior, by saying: “He’s looking fantastic. He’s looking really strong in practice.”
Running at No. 2 for the Patriots will be senior Nathan Moshos. Others hoping to stay near the front are senior Chase Cresgy; junior Caleb Paauwe, who reportedly recovered well from hip surgery in March and trained hard over the summer; other juniors Tyler Nemeth and Briar Herb; and sophomores Dru Keith and Jay Beddow.
Dever said newcomers to watch are junior Nana Dadzie (in his first season of running cross country), freshman Joe Mascari (Otter Creek) and senior Adam Neese.
“We are going to be a team that will surprise some people and it will improve as it gets more racing experience as the season goes along,” the Patriots’ coach predicted. “I’m excited.”
North’s boys, just like its girls, will compete Aug. 31 in the Franklin Community Invitational.
• Terre Haute South — To put it simply, third-year coach Kyle Walsh’s Braves are loaded.
Ranked No. 6 in the state’s preseason poll by indianarunner.com, South is led by senior Jackson Bertoli, who placed fourth in the 2012 state finals. This season, he’s ranked No. 2 by indianarunner.com.
“He battled through some injuries in the spring and still finished fourth in the state in the 3,200-meter run [in late May],” Walsh noted. “Now he’s healthy and training at a high level, which allows him to focus on all the little things we want to improve on. I look to see him take his running to the next level. He would love to win the state championship, but we’re focusing on the day-to-day of getting better.”
Despite Bertoli’s high level of respect around the state, South is not a one-man team. Also back are junior Spencer Danielson (51st in the state last season), senior Jack Harbaugh (122nd in the state) and senior Riley Stohler (188th in the state and set the school record in the 800-meter run in the spring).
“Spencer has grown about eight inches in the two years since I’ve known him,” Walsh pointed out. “With that growth spurt, he’s had some shin pains, so we’ve limited his mileage. But he’s cross-training about 90 minutes a day … and the goal for Spencer is to have him healthy by the end of the year so he can do his best then.”
Walsh said four guys are pushing for No. 5 spot — senior Matt Barley, junior Levi Elrod, sophomore Evan Poole and freshman Jayce Farnsworth (Honey Creek).
“We lost five of our top nine runners from last year,” Walsh summarized. “That’s why our depth is kind of small. But we all think we’re a team capable of a podium finish [top five at the state meet].”
Today’s Bloomington North Early Bird Meet at the Gibson course is first on the Braves’ schedule.
• West Vigo — Season No. 33 has started for coach Bill Petscher, whose squad lost to Greencastle 25-33 on Tuesday and won at Sullivan 20-39 on Thursday.
Junior Jonah Eckert appears ready to continue his role as the Vikings’ No. 1 runner.
Other returnees expected to contribute are senior Blake Benefiel, who doubles as a tennis player in the fall; juniors Austin Romanelly, Davin Donnelly and Zac Otte; and sophomores Jacob Weir, Clayton O’Neal, Trevor Roskovensky and Caleb Likens.
Petscher named a few newcomers — senior Tyler Tolerson, sophomore Cody Rumple and freshmen Brian Becker and Brady Cage — as others who may make an impact.
“I think this team has great potential once we get everyone running together,” the veteran coach said. “I think we’ll be very competitive by the end of the season.”
West Vigo will run again Sept. 7 in the State Preview Meet at the Gibson course.