Heat of summer is bearing down on Wise County, but it’s not stopping many of the area’s top high school distance runners from getting in miles in preparation for the season.
Several teams are already meeting several mornings a week for workouts, and others will begin practices in the next two weeks as they look to make a successful run deep into the fall.
Here’s a look at teams from around the county:
ALVORD LADY BULLDOGS
With a mix of mostly seniors and freshmen, the Alvord Lady Bulldogs nearly reached their ultimate goal last season – making the podium at the state meet. Alvord finished fourth with 125 points – 14 back of third-place East Bernard.
As the Lady Bulldogs start training for a new season without several of their top runners from last year – Jordan Ward, Chelsey Steele, Rebecca Evans and Madi Lynch – the goal remains the same.
“We want to get on stage,” said Alvord’s lone senior, Ariel Rogers. “It’s a bold, big goal, but we’re going to go for it.”
Alvord coach Curtis Enis doesn’t want the team to change its sights from returning to state and competing for a state crown. He believes this year’s squad has the capability to run with anyone.
“The goal never changes,” he said. “We have a program set up, and the kids are dedicated to it.”
Rogers is now the unquestioned leader for the squad as the only senior. She ran a 13:20 to finish 49th at the state meet last year.
“If there’s only one senior, she’d be the one I’d want,” Enis said. “She’s a good role model and leader.”
Though she’s the lone senior, Rogers is optimistic about the team’s chances because of the returning sophomores – Lacey Watkins and Clara Breashears. Watkins turned in the team’s best time at state last year, running 12:49 to finish 16th. Breashears was 41st in 13:13.
Both expect to be better this year with last year’s experience.
Enis expects contributions from a healthy Marissa Schedcik, Brooklyn Mitchum, Makayla Perry and Caitlyn Lynch.
BOYD LADY YELLOWJACKETS
Boyd captured the District 10-2A title last year by a point over Millsap.
The Lady Yellowjackets will try to rebuild after the graduation of lead runner Skylar Truly.
Coach Oscar Hernandez said the Lady Yellowjackets return senior Courtney Sanders, who finished sixth at district and 40th at regionals. Jessica Colbert, who was 51st at regionals in 13:29, is back.
Hernandez said the team will likely be without sophomore Jessica Birch, a state qualifier in the 400 in track, because of a foot and hip injury. Birch was 29th at regionals last year in 13:04.
“It’s a big loss not having Birch,” he said. “We should have some freshmen that we can plug in.”
The Bridgeport Sissies made their first trip to regionals in 13 years last season and return all but one runner.
With most of her runners back, including Tiffany Hawkins, Bridgeport coach Dayna Hudson is hoping the squad can return to regionals out of their new District 9-3A.
“Last year we made some good improvement all year,” Hudson said. “I gave them a workout over the summer, and they’ve all been doing it. The team has a chance as a whole to get back to regionals.”
Hudson said many of the team’s top runners will again be splitting time between running and playing volleyball.
Hawkins turned in a season-best time of 12:37 last year. She took eighth at district and 31st at regionals. Hudson said Hawkins is in the best shape she’s been in.
“She’s been working out hard,” Hudson said.
Diana Garcia, Hayley Hooten, Lauren Stowers, Lacey Erwin and Sabrina Garza ran at regionals with Hawkins last year.
Hudson expects some freshmen and runners from last year’s junior varsity to compete for varsity spots this year.
“The freshmen are motivated after seeing us go to regionals last year,” Hudson said. “Our junior varsity girls won four meets last year, and some of them will be trying for spots. We’ll have some people competing for spots.”
DECATUR LADY EAGLES
The Decatur Lady Eagles sent off three of their four seniors last year with a fourth straight trip to the Class 3A podium at the state meet.
Now with mainstays Bianca Morrison, Zuleima Palomo and Natalie Neighbors and fellow senior Bobbi Clemmer graduated, the Lady Eagles will look to a youth movement to carry on the tradition.
“It’s going to be different with all the seniors gone,” said sophomore Nancy Torres, who finished 30th at state last year in 12:48. “It’s up to us.”
Torres, fellow sophomore Nicole Neighbors and junior Morgan Haney are the three returning runners from among Decatur’s top seven from last year. Coach David Park will be looking for several freshmen to step in and compete.
“There’s lots of youth and opportunity,” Park said. “I’ve got to be patient and do a good job of laying a good foundation. This could be like 2008 when Bianca, Z and Natalie were freshmen, and they hit the scene like gangbusters. We’ll see.”
Neighbors led the Lady Eagles at state, finishing 27th in 12:47. She’s anxious to improve as a sophomore.
“I know what to expect being a year older,” she said. “I’ve got to keep my mind straight and keep improving.”
Haney, who battled a back injury for much of last year, is expected to bounce back this season. She finished 53rd at state in 13:14.
NORTHWEST LADY TEXANS
Led by underclassmen Kellee McCann and Katherine Chavez, Northwest narrowly missed making the state meet as a team last year, taking fifth at regionals.
McCann and Chavez went on to take 16th and 17th at state.
They will return along with Taylor Bohr, who was 17th last year at regionals in 11:50, to try to guide Northwest to state.
“The opportunity is there,” said Northwest coach George Lutkenhaus. “With our top three, we’ll be able to run with anyone. We have to come up with two more.”
The Lady Texans will make the transition from running 3,200 meters to a 5K this year on the 5A level. Chavez said that change fits their team’s strengths.
“It’s better for our top three,” she said. “We’re all good with the longer distance. I’ll do better with the 5K.”
Chavez last year as a freshman made it to state in cross country and track. She ran an area-best 11:23 at the regional meet last season to finish fifth.
McCann will be looking for a third straight trip to state in cross country. She turned in an 11:31 at regionals last year.
PARADISE LADY PANTHERS
Paradise edged out Jacksboro last fall to earn a regional bid out of District 10-2A.
The Lady Panthers will return everyone from that regional-qualifying squad this year. Paradise coach Eddie Fortenberry expects this year’s team to be even stronger.
“We didn’t lose anybody, and we have three strong ones coming up from junior high,” Fortenberry said.
Bailey Sides, who turned in the team’s best times at district and regionals, returns. She ran a 13:33 for 55th at regionals.
“She’s been dedicated and been working hard,” Fortenberry said. “I expect her to be as good as she’s ever been.”
Emily Corbin, Brianna Smith, Kaylee McConnell, Angela Powers, Monika Qualls and Haley Rector joined her at regionals last year.
SLIDELL LADY GREYHOUNDS
Led by freshmen Kayleigh Miller, Codi Crane and Caitlin Pruett, the Slidell Lady Greyhounds captured the 14-A title last year.
Those three return for a young Lady Greyhounds team hoping to defend their crown.
“We’ll be young,” said Slidell coach Cody Vanover. “We’ll have sophomores and freshmen leading the way.”
In her first varsity race for Slidell after transferring, Miller won the district title in 13:55. She took 21st at regionals in 13:31.
To start the season, the Alvord Bulldogs are short on numbers.
Bobby McKinnon, a regional qualifier last year, and Logan Watkins are currently the lone Bulldogs running.
Coach Curtis Enis is hoping to get more kids out in August.
The Boyd Yellowjackets finished fifth in District 10-2A last year, but coach Oscar Hernandez is encouraged coming into this year.
“We have a chance to be really good, if we can get everyone out,” he said.
The Yellowjackets return their top runner, Marco Martinez, who qualified for regionals last year after finishing seventh at the district meet.
Sophomores Aaron and Cameron Hammett are also back.
“They are hard workers and don’t miss a practice,” Hernandez said. “By the end of the year last year, they were really pushing each other.”
After two straight trips to the state meet, the Decatur Eagles are no longer a young squad. They are a group of grizzled veterans looking to contend for a spot on the podium.
Decatur coach David Park has seen a change in the team’s approach this summer.
“This has been our best summer as far as the guys putting in the miles and being dedicated,” Park said. “That first year at state, it was a surprise. Now, they are taking on more responsibility and are excited. They understand they have a chance of doing something special.”
Taylor Clayton returns as the team’s top runner. He ran a 17:25 to finish 42nd at state last year. He won the District 7-3A title in 16:25.
He and fellow junior Brandon Rivera are back with seniors Remington May, Travis Kyle, and Daniel and Michael Smyers, who were mainstays in the lineup last year. The team’s seventh spot rotated between Austin Poole, Tyler Wilson and Lane Mitchell. Park expects even more competition for spots this year.
The figure at the front of the pack for Northwest the past four years – Troy Taylor – is now running at the University of North Texas.
The Texans will look to rebuild and compete in one of the state’s top districts. Northwest coach George Lutkenhaus expects his younger Texans to be competitive.
“You can’t replace a guy like [Taylor],” Lutkenhaus said. “He was not only fast, but a good leader and role model. But I expect improvement from our younger guys, and we’ll still be in the hunt. It’ll be a different look this year.”
The Texans do return junior Zack Kirkland, who finished sixth last year at the 7-5A district meet and followed up with a season-best 15:33 at regionals for 14th place.
Lutkenhaus is looking for an older and stronger Kirkland to contend for a state spot.
“He can sprint with anyone,” he said. “His Achilles heel has been the middle of the race. A lot of that was being young. Every year, he gets faster and stronger. He’ll definitely be one to take it to the next level.”
Lutkenhaus is also looking for improvement from Ashton Shelton, who finished 47th at regionals in 16:28.
With their sixth-place runner, the Paradise Panthers edged out Peaster to take the third regional berth out of District 10-2A last year.
With six of their seven runners back from last year, Paradise coach Tim Dukes believes they can make a return to regionals.
“We’re still a fairly young group,” Dukes said. “They are excited after going to regionals. They’ve been running on their own and getting in shape.”
Jarret Holt turned in Paradise’s best time at district, but couldn’t run at regionals last year. He ran an 18:39 at district. Sam Robinson ran the team’s best time at regionals, finishing 68th in 18:42. Chance and Colby Dial followed him across.
Landry Norwood and Zach Fletcher will be back to join them on the course.
The Slidell Greyhounds made their second straight trip to the state meet last year.
The Greyhounds will try to get back for a third year without their top two runners from last year – Dylan Carnes and Cord Hankins – and fellow senior Daniel McCasland. But Slidell coach Cody Vanover said the four remaining members from last year’s squad could lead the team into contention again.
“If we can shake off some growing pains, we’ll have a chance to slowly improve,” Vanover said. “We might not be quite as strong, but we’ll have eight or nine boys fighting for seven spots.”
Vanover expects a strong season from sophomore Khristian Talamantes.
“All year, his times improved, and he ran his best 5K last year at state,” he said.
The Greyhounds’ other returners are Luis Castillo, Jessie Bowen and Jarrett Tinsman.