By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
Cross country is a sport where a majority of the area’s best were seniors last season.
When you combine the 2016 boys and girls all-area teams, eight of the 12 runners aren’t returning after graduation, including players of the year in North Port’s Louie Dietrich and Lemon Bay’s Kelsi Ogilvie.
That means the area is wide open for the taking from a new group of runners.
In a year where the individuals will likely shine more than their teams as a whole, who is going to lead the area?
Lemon Bay’s Maddison Welch is looking to make it a third consecutive Manta Ray to be named runner of the year, but Charlotte Isabella Coogan is primed to take the title for the Tarpons.
On the boys side, North Port’s C.J. Moody could follow in the footsteps of Dietrich — his former teammates — or perhaps Port Charlotte’s John Perez takes the step to join the elite level.
FOUR TO WATCH
North Port, Jr.
Moody returns as the Bobcats’ top runner. He ran a personal-best of 16 minutes, 57.3 seconds last year. He’ll look to improve on his 16th-place finish at districts and 27th-place showing at regionals.
Her 18:52.70 last year set a school record. Coogan might have medaled at states last year if not for a stress fracture suffered at districts.
Port Charlotte, Jr.
Perez was running his best at the end of the year, totaling his personal-best of 17:41.46 at the district meet. Look for him to take another jump this year as the Pirates’ No. 1.
Lemon Bay, Sr.
Welch qualified for states last year, and placed second at regionals and fourth at district. Now that she’s a senior, it’s her turn to lead a team which has owned the area recently.
Coach: Phu Ngyuen
Key runners lost: Evan Weisberger, Louie Dietrich, Dillon Garret, Jeff Frietas, Javy Amaya.
Key runners returning: C.J. Moody, Jr.; Kevin Kapadia, Sr.
Promising newcomers: Joseph Smith, Fr.; Caleb Melton, Jr. Trevor Melton, Sr. Trevor Osborne, So.
Outlook: The Bobcats should be competitive once again this season, especially with the return of C.J. Moody. Newcomer Joseph Smith is going to make a big impact on the team as a freshman. On a team that doesn’t have much varsity experience, growth throughout the season will be key for chances at regionals and possibly even states.
Coach: Tom Trealout/Joe Casale
Key runners lost: Tyler Morgan, Josh Steelman
Key runners returning: Henry Finck, Sr.; Harley Rusher, So.; Colton Montgomery, Sr.
Promising newcomers: Thomas Blem, Fr.; Ben Tucker, So.
Outlook: A young Manta Ray team still has strong postseason expectations this year. Even though they’re take their losses early in the season and might have a rough start, there’s great expactation on midseason improvement, with the possibility of grabbing the final spot or two to reach the state meet.
Coach: Ray Chumbley
Key runners lost: Michael Balseca, Jean Bateau
Key runners returning: John Perez, Jr.; Carson Baras, Sr.; Zac Catron, Jr..
Promising newcomers: Chase Chambers, Jr.; Jayden Edwards, Sr.; Chandler Mault, Fr.; Joe Bishop, So.
Outlook: It was disappointing for the Pirates to lose Balseca to Charlotte, but there are a host of newcomers who are ready to fill his shoes. Perez is approaching the elite level to be able to hold his own with anyone in the state, and even has a chance to maybe reach states as an individual. This is one of the more experienced teams in the area, so expect them to rely on that early in the season.
Coach: Chris George
Key runners lost: Kyle Shirley, Colby Spencer
Key runners returning: Troi Kari-McClary, Sr.; Jake Lille, So., Anthony Cavanaugh, Sr.; Sam Asperilla, Sr., Jensen Desguin Jr,, Noah Lamborn Sr., Jonathan Bush So., Mason Cronin So.
Promising newcomers: Michael Balseca, Sr.
Outlook: The addition of Balseca is big for the Tarpons, who will immediately jump in as the team’s No. 1 runner. He has quickly become a leader on the team alongside captain Kari-McClary. Charlotte is eyeing its 10th consecutive trip to regionals as a team, and could also see a couple of players individually qualify for states.
Coach: Jennifer Reed
Key runners lost: Darielle Costa, Lindsay Boethig, Kaley Boethig, Kayla Dennis
Key runners returning: Emily Rumisek, Sr.; Alexis Smith, Jr.; Mackenzie Doyle, Jr.
Promising newcomers: N/A
Outlook: The Bobcats lost a huge chunk of their production in the Boethigs, Costa and Dennis. Replacing them will be difficult, but returners Rumisek, Smith and Doyle have so experience to be at the top of the pack for North Port. It might be difficult to repeat the success this team has had the last few years, but growth throughout the year could be key to a postseason run.
Coach: Joe Casale/Tom Trealout
Key runners lost: Kelsi Ogilvie, Kristen Robinson
Key runners returning: Maddison Welch, Sr.; Chloe Mitchell, Sr.; Audrey Werden, So.; Megan Carly, Jr.; Sheridyn Craft, Jr.
Promising newcomers: N/A
Outlook: Ogilvie and Robinson are tremendous losses for the Manta Rays, and it’s going to be tough for any newcomer to replace them. Fortunately, they still have Welch, who is now a senior, poised to lead the team, and could be a regional champion. It might not be the dominating Manta Rays we’ve seen the last few years, but they’re still going to very competitive in the district and region.
Coach: Stefany Sanchez
Key runners lost: Alden Goucher, Isabella Reyes, Abby Chambers, Brittany McGivern, Lyla Eaton.
Key runners returning: Amy Quinones-Padilla, Jr.; Jocelyn Ramos, Jr.; Jalynn Rockymore, Jr.; Kaya Hensler, So.
Promising newcomers: Emmalee Lowe, Fr.; Adrianna Otway, Fr.; Haley Welgan, Fr.
Outlook: It appears to be a building year for the Pirates, as they look for ways to find replacements for a large group of seniors last season. They do have a strong group of juniors this year, with Quinones-Padilla set to be the No. 1. Newcomer Lowe has a shot at being a big impact on the team as a freshman.
Coach: Chris Robishaw
Key runners lost: Natalie Ressel
Key runners returning: Isabella Coogan, Jr.; Katie Kanagy, Sr.; Brittney Smith, Sr.; Alexa Roughton, Jr.; Sydney Rodetsky, Jr.; Victoria Simeone, Jr.; Mackenzie Flowers, So.
Promising newcomers: None
Outlook: A successful Tarpons team in the last couple of season didn’t lose much from lat year. Ressel was the only senior a year ago, and most importantly, they return Coogan. The junior could be looking at Sun all-area honors runner of the year by the end of the season. Along with her teammates in Kanagy, Smith and Roughton, Charlotte expects to make some noise in the district and region.