Cross Country: Yount-led Smoky Hill carry big expectations onto course in 2014 season

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Smoky Hill's Blake Yount
Smoky Hill senior Blake Yount finished sixth in the 2013 Class 5A boys state championship cross country race and could contend for the title in 2014. Yount’s Buffaloes have aspirations of a top-three team finish as well. (Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

The Smoky Hill boys cross country team can’t wait to see what is afoot for them come the Class 5A state meet.

Led by Blake Yount, who finished sixth individually at the 2013 5A state meet, plus a deep pen of other seniors, the Buffaloes have trained their focus on a potential top three finish in the Oct. 25 state race at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs.

With good health and depth, Smoky Hill expects to post its best result in several years and easily surpass last year’s Aurora-best ninth place result at state.

With former Denver East star and back-to-back state champion Cerake Geberkidane graduated, Smoky Hill coaches believe Yount — who has expressed his fondness for the course the state meet has been held on the past two seasons — will be in the mix for the individual title as he continues to blossom as a dedicated runner. Yount, a multi-sport athlete, continues to tap into his potential in cross country and track, with Division I schools including Colorado, UCLA, Stanford, California, Wisconsin and Kansas eyeing him.

Yount will aim to win the Aurora City Championship meet for a second straight season on Sept. 4 at the Aurora Sports Park.

Much-improved senior Cody Miller is a potential top 10-15 finisher, while seniors Simon Geday, Michael Andress and Michael Anthony and juniors Spencer Bradshaw and Ricardo Quijada form the experienced part of a team with youngsters pushing from the bottom that should only prepare the Buffs for the end of the season.

Yount’s twin sister, Brynell, is the leader of the girls team with a top-10 team goal that is strengthened by state-experienced seniors Jamie Jezier, Lesley Fatica and Lana Yeager. Carlie Andrie and Emmah Johannes make up part of a rising sophomore class that is making a push.

From last season’s Aurora City Championship-winning Grandview boys squad, coach Allyson Robbins returns senior Nathan Graham, who lost the city championship race to Yount in a sprint last season, as well as seniors Mick Norton — brother of Grandview’s now-gradauted two-time all-state girls runner Erin Norton — and Pravan Kalaga.

Freshmen Caleb Randolph and AJ Watters appear ready to contribute in their debut seasons for the Wolves.

Despite the graduation of Erin Norton — who is now at Iowa State — Grandview’s defending city champion girls team is a veteran crew helmed by seniors Nicole Mundy, Sylvana Ross and Rachel Shaw and juniors Kayla Vallin, Camilla Hallin and Melanie Jenkins. All but Hallin ran at last season’s 5A state meet when the Wolves finished eighth overall. Freshmen Peyton Dailey and Caroline Robbins both have made an impact in the early going already.

Coach Chris Faust’s Cherokee Trail boys return several key cogs from last season’s group, led by seniors Duncan Barnhill and Kyles Jones, who both aim to finish in the top 25 at state. Barnhill came the closest to doing that last season when he finished 29th, the fourth-best result among the 22 Aurora boys in the 5A field, while Jones came in 69th.

Seniors Leland Wallisch, Eli Pales, Nate Thomas and Brandon Bullock, plus junior Jackson Cowley, give the Cougars — 21st a season ago at state — plenty of experience in support.

Under the direction of coach Josh Tate, the Cherokee Trail girls are also experienced and ready to roll as they try to better last season’s 17th-place state meet result.

Junior Amy McConnell finished fourth in the Aurora City Championship girls race last season and has an eye at the city crown with the three runners in front of her graduated. Senior Lysie Roper and sophomore Jordan Herrera supply strength at the top ahead of a very tight pack for the Cougars.

For the first time in several years, Regis Jesuit is under new leadership, as Charles Hillig replaces Bryan Bruno as coach for both the boys and girls teams.

Hillig is a former Regis Jesuit runner himself and finished second in the Aurora City Championship meet as a senior in 2003. He’s got a bonafide leader on the boys team in John O’Hagan, who finished 11th at the city meet in 2013 and had a fine season, though he did not qualify for the 5A state meet.

In Hillig’s early evaulation, things seemed tighter at the top on the girls side, though the Raiders have back sophomore Julia Vitella, the top returning Aurora finisher at last season’s state meet in 18th.

Senior Lindsey Koch won the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede early in the season and is another key piece that could keep Regis Jesuit in the range of last season when it finished a city-best seventh at the state meet, while junior Katie Schilmoeller also has state experience.

The Eaglecrest girls team lost Alicia Taurchini, a four-time 5A state qualifier, to graduation, but her sister, Janine, could pick up the mantle for the program this season. Jess McQuaid has performed well in the early season as well, while George Rykovich and Evan Keely have paced the Raptors on the boys side thus far.

The Overland boys team takes its cues from senior leader Yosef Abele, while freshman Krista Rhodes is an exciting addition for coach David Ford’s girls team.

Hinkley has strong leaders on both the boys and girls sides in Oscar Briones-Ruiz and Merhawet Taeme, respectively.

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel

2014 AURORA CROSS COUNTRY SEASON

Key dates: Aug. 21 — Regular season begins; Sept. 4 — Aurora City Championships (Aurora Sports Park); Sept. 19 — 57th annual Aurora Invitational at Aurora Sports Park, 3:30 p.m.; Oct. 16-18 — Regionals completed; Oct. 25 — State meet (Norris Penrose Event Center, Colorado Springs) — Time schedule: 2A girls 9:20 a.m., 3A boys 10 a.m., 4A boys 10:30 a.m., 5A girls 11 a.m., 2A boys 11:30 a.m., 3A girls noon, 4A girls 12:30 p.m., 5A boys 1 p.m.

Aurora boys runners to watch: Michael Andress, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Duncan Barnhill, Cherokee Trail, sr.*; Spencer Bradshaw, Smoky Hill, jr.; Oscar Briones-Ruiz, Hinkley, sr.; Sam Ehrhard, Grandview, sr.*; Simon Geday, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Niles Gilmore, Vista PEAK, soph.; Nathan Graham, Grandview, sr.*; Kyle Jones, Cherokee Trail, sr.*; Pravan Kalaga, Grandview, sr.*; Amir Kassahun, Smoky Hill, sr.; Evan Keely, Eaglecrest, sr.; Cody Miller, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Mick Norton, Grandview, sr.*; John O’Hagan, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Yosef Robele, Overland, sr.; George Rykovich, Eaglecrest, soph.; Blake Yount, Smoky Hill, sr.*

Aurora girls runners to watch: Carlie Andrie, Smoky Hill, soph.*; Peyton Dailey, Grandview, fr.; Leslie Fatica, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Nathalie Gomez, Hinkley, jr.; Jordan Herrera, Cherokee Trail, soph.*; Melanie Jenkins, Grandview, jr.*; Jamie Jezier, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Emmah Johannes, Smoky Hill, soph.*; Lindsey Koch, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Amy McConnell, Cherokee Trail, jr.*; Jess McQuaid, Eaglecrest; Nicole Mundy, Grandview, sr.*; Savanah Nesvold, Cherokee Trail, jr.*; Krista Rhodes, Overland, fr.; Lynsie Roper, Cherokee Trail, sr.*; Sylvana Ross, Grandview, sr.*; Patricia Ruiz, Vista PEAK; Katie Schilmoeller, Regis Jesuit, jr.*; Merhawet (Mary) Taeme, Hinkley, sr.; Janine Taurchini, Eaglecrest, jr.; Kayla Vallin, Grandview, jr.*; Julia Vitella, Regis Jesuit, soph.*; Lana Yeager, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Brynell Yount, Smoky Hill, sr.*

* — Returning state qualifier/participant