Five of the top seven boys from 2020's WPIAL runner-up cross country team jump back on the path for Butler this season.
Golden Tornado seniors C.J Singleton and Sage Vavro finished first and second, respectively, in last year's district championships. Singleton also came in sixth overall in the state.
Seniors Ryder Kriley and Raine Gratzmiller, junior Ben Lyons, and sophomore Drew Griffith are other names to watch for. As a team, the only section foe the Golden Tornado lost to a year ago was North Allegheny.
“If the boys come around the way I feel they can, we stand a very good chance of qualifying for the state meet again,” Butler coach Rick Dananzati said.
On the girls side, too, the cupboard is stuffed. After finishing 10th in the WPIAL, the top seven girls are back.
If not for it taking fewer runners due to the pandemic, senior Jennifer Cichra would have qualified individually for the state meet last fall. Kara Kemple and Aubree Tack also return as seniors.
Juniors Madalyn Semmler and Samantha Cornell and sophomores Ava Brewster and Lauren Bowden make up the rest of the competitors.
“I look for our girls to be much improved over last year,” Davanzati said.
Senior Jacob Schaeffer will be the boys team's top runner for the third year this fall. Freshman Michael Braun helps lead the top crew. Senior Benjamin Perka, juniors James Hower and Jacob Kristine, and sophomore John Rhoden shape up to be some of the Yellowjackets' biggest contributors.
“Jacob and Michael put in a lot of miles this offseason and they were committed to running,” coach Melissa Schaeffer said. “We have a pretty deep top five. They're a tight pack.”
Sophomore Erin Schaeffer paces a young girls team. She, along with freshman Addy Kristofek and junior Anita Baht, ran within 21:00 last year. Anne Lindsay, the team's foremost runner last year, comes back from injury.
The boys follow seniors Andrew Callihan, a return winner of a couple of meets last year, and James Henzell. Landon Wilson, Reid Campbell, and Dillan Strup fill out as what coach Robert Pennington says is a strong group of sophomores.
The Gremlins rounded out with a 3-4 mark last season, Pennington said, but he believes the boys will improve their win total this fall. He's especially excited to see what his freshmen can do.
Senior Brooke Griffith will be the girls' only senior this season, running alongside sophomores Taylor Dailey, Kiley Preston, and Stari Roberts. With only four runners, they won't be able to run as a team.
The boys team is on the younger side after graduating three key runners from last year's group. Each — Mike Formica (Youngstown State), Daniel Diehl (Washington & Jefferson), and Ethan Weimer (St. Vincent) — have moved on to the college ranks.
Evan Chess and Sheldon Deal, both juniors, are returning lettermen. Sophomores Austen Haugh, Eli Ruediger, and Michael Stull round out the scorers. Having finished eighth in AA last year, coach Wess Brahler looks for the team to continue to make their mark at the WPIAL level.
“We're going to have to grow up and run with the upperclassmen,” Brahler said. “The teams that dominate with seniors are usually the strong teams We're just going to have to hang in there and keep improving throughout the year.”
The girls, who are back-to-back section champions, finished fifth in the WPIAL a year ago. The senior quartet of Elyse Chess, Yumiko Kuo, Jocelyn Holko, and Jaydon Crawford have experience at the state level.
Junior Grace Bogacz also ran at states in 2019, where the team placed 14th. Sophomore Emma Haugh should make an impact, as well, Brahler said.
The Planet boys welcome back each of its scorers from last season. Seniors Greg Chernosky (21st overall at the recent Cal U Invitational), Jack Olshenske, and John Dunn spearhead the pack. Sophomore Brady Spoores and newcomer Kyle Kochanski trail the upperclassmen.
Coach Joe Cioc also praised senior leader Anuj Kaul, saying, “This kid is a 17-year-old and he's been acting like he's 47 years old for the past three years.”
The team came 16th at WPIALs last year, but Cioc plans for improvement.
The Planet girls team didn't lose any of its top five to graduation. Senior Grace Wu finished 11th at the Cal U Invite—at the same course that the WPIAL championship is run at in November. Seniors Kalin Wilson and Eliza Matusek and sophomores Riley Mayer and Bella Morales hope to keep up with Wu.
Senior Ben Cappozzi comes back with the Trojan boys' best time at WPIALs last fall. The squad as a whole finished fifth. Sophomore Sam West (29th at WPIALs) and juniors Joe Harmanos (23rd) and Owen Schessler (41st) also return with postseason experience.
Sophomore Rigel Weakland and new faces Giacomo Lepore and Luke Rinker are other names to watch for this season for a group that's confident it can crack the league's top three.
North's girls came away with a league crown and placed third at states in 2020. Even better, they bring back three runners who each finished in the WPIAL meet's top 20. Sophomore Grace Lazarra crossed the line fifth last fall, with senior Alaina Hicks (13th) and junior Julia Zalenski (20th) not far behind. Sophomore Alexandra Gongas placed 32nd.
Coach Joella Baker, an assistant with the teams last season, takes over on a full-time basis.
Senior and state medalist Noah Peterson and junior Eli DeWitt get back on the course for the Raider boys after both coming away in the top eight at WPIALs last year. The team overall placed third in the league. Along with senior Austin Tatusko, a handful of underclassmen seek to make a difference.
“I thought we had a great freshman class last year,” SV coach Steve Strelick said. “(Last season), I remember thinking to myself, 'This pipeline looks good.”
In that group are four sophomores — Ethan Barnett, Nick Dunmire, Connor Smith, and Canaan Sauers — and freshman Max Smith, who finished third in a recent scrimmage at Knoch High School.
Senior Ruthie Hughes and juniors Grace Grainer and Abby Kreber finished first, second, and third, respectively in that same scrimmage. Their team also came in third in the WPIAL in 2020. Samantha Maury, Strelick said, made an impressive leap in the offseason.
Seniors Karsyn Spears and Sydney Perry look to be scorers, as well.
The Slippery Rock boys come off of an 8-4 season and have a foursome of familiar scorers. Seniors Josh Brenneman and Jack Spence and juniors Jesse Miller and Anthony Robare all have a wealth of experience running under coach Mike Hilliard.
Hilliard said he relies on his seniors to provide leadership and draw others into a sport that most people avoid. One of those new runners in particular, sophomore Viktor Zahn, is off to a good start, finishing ninth overall at the Butler County Classic last Saturday.
“District 10 is a highly competitive organization when it comes to cross country,” Hilliard said. “Where we lie at the end of the season is best on their efforts and the skill of those that they race against. I feel that they'll be successful.”
Co-captains and seniors Samantha Frazier and Marie Bickel lead the girls. Fellow seniors Maya Adams and Amelia Schwarz are returning lettermen, while junior Lexi Doerflinger was the 19th runner to cross the finish line at the Butler County Classic.
“I really give Samantha and Marie credit with changing the culture of our team,” coach Jess Schroeffel said. “As seventh-graders, they were running harder than some of my varsity girls…The freshmen that are coming in have had that example from day one.”
Note: Coaches from A-C Valley, Union and Moniteau were unavailable for comment.