A year ago, Chapin justifiably could make the claim of being the top overall cross country program in the Midlands. The Eagles boys finished second at the Class 3A state meet behind all-time great Luke Lovelace, who earned his second straight individual championship in his senior season. The girls team placed fourth at state behind senior all-state runners Ashlyn Ruczko and Claudia Nunez, who finished ninth and 13th, respectively.
Veteran coach Jack LaGrand realizes things could be different this season as both the boys and girls teams are rebuilding in the wake of significant graduation hits.
“I think we’re going to be OK, but we do have a lot of new faces,” said LaGrand. “Because we don’t have the quality of runners at the top that we did last year and we’re have to run well as a team but I still think we’ll be very competitive in 3A.”
That’s a given. Chapin has been a Top 10 fixture at state since the late 1980s.
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Sophomore Carson Barnes is projected as the Eagles No. 1 runner on the boys side. He earned all-state recognition last season with a ninth place state finish. Senior Russell Baker just missed the all-state cut last fall, placing 18th at state. Seniors Shaun Hinen and Eric Rice also return. Hinen finished 24th at state as Chapin’s No. 3 runner, while Rice finished 56th, but did not figure into the Eagles team scoring total.
That’s a good foundation. LaGrand is looking for newcomers to round out what should be another very strong team, if not a clear-cut state title contender on the eve of the season.
Ruczko, Nunez and Laura Hernandez (35th at state) are all gone from the scene, leaving the Chapin girls a question mark team. Freshman Lannon McCoy, junior Olivia Bueno, senior Syndey Frontz and junior Hannah Shull return from last year’s state lineup. McCoy is the projected No. 1 runner after she placed 20th at state as an eight-grader last November. Bueno finished 46th, Frontz was 56th and Shull 87th at the season finale a year ago.
The Eagles open the season by hosting a 12-team meet on Sept. 3. The first big tests will be at the annual Coach Classic gathering at Sandhills Research Park on Sept. 13.