Last fall was The Year of the Wildcat in Midlands cross country circles.
Lexington’s boys and girls team staged breakouts seasons in 2009. Bailey Harris boys team was the headliner, pulling off a totally unexpected coup at the Class 4A state finals to claim the program’s first major championship. The youthful girls team, guided by proven program builder Catherine Lempesis for the first time, returned to the state Top 10 for the first time since 2004.
It had been 12 years since both Wildcats teams managed Top 10 state finishes.
The defending champion boys team lost key seniors Draw Harris and Will Belue, who placed fifth and 10th, respectively at state, but the rest of the championship starting lineup returns, including junior Colby Coulter who also earned all-state by finishing ninth at the season finale.
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Tony Morales, Erik Wendt, Jay Lloyd, Alex Haulbrook and Blake White all ran at state last season. Lloyd and White both had scoring runs, finishing 23rd and 30th. Lloyd, Morales, Wendt and Haulbrook all earned all-region honors while leading the ‘Cats to the Region 5-4A title.
“We lose two all-state runners, but the guys coming back have worked extremely hard to earn a shot at repeating,” said Harris.
“We’re a younger team with lonely one senior among our top 10 runners, but we’re still hungry.”
Zach Trim, Keylan Owens, Davis Craig, Thomas Harris and Ryan Stoudamire are returning lettermen in the mix for starting nods. The top newcomers are Zach Langston and Daniel Carter.
Lempesis, who oversaw Spring Valley’s rise to a powerhouse status in the late 1980s and early 1990s and built a competitive Dutch Fork program from scratch, guided an extremely young Lexington team to a surprisingly high finish. The Wildcats placed ninth at state and are looking to move up even more this season.
“We were so young last year and are still very young, but as a team we expect to be more competitive and mentally stronger,” said Lempesis.
Five of last season’s seven starters at state return, including sophomore Meri Heneage, senior Beka Rush, sophomore Val Feliciano and eighth-graders Haylee Love and Katlin Killman.
Senior Dani Callari and junior Allie Callari and Cameron Shackleford are also back in the fold. Freshman Katelyn Keene and Karen Grier are expected to challenge for starting roles, as well.