By William

LINDSBORG – While the Smoky Valley cross country program will have a new head coach, he does bring 25 years of experience as a track coach to work with a team loaded with quality runners as they look for success in the 2020 season.

Jay Myers takes over as Head Coach of the Viking harriers along with Jenica Rose as his assistant. Rose started the Smoky Valley middle school program several years ago while in Buhler.

What does Coach Myers have on hand to work with? Well for one he returns two runners who finished in the top 15 at the state meet in 2019.

Ryan Heline returns to lead the Smoky Valley boys for his senior season after closing out the 2019 year with a Central Kansas League Championship before placing sixth at the State Meet with a run of 16:44.

For the Lady Vikings, Gracie Lambert, just a junior, will be the designated team leader after finishing third in the league meet and then placing 15th at the state meet.

“Both Ryan (Heline) and Gracie (Lambert) ran personal records at state last season,” noted Coach Myers. “I also believe both teams placed fourth at the regionals and just missed out of having a team qualify for state in what was a super tough regional at Norton.”

While the Vikings lose Adin Replogle from the boys team and Nevada Acheson, Ashlyn Bryant, and Zoe Grace from the girls team, they are still returning 11 runners who have solid varsity experience.

“We are excited despite losing those four runners plus five others who have decided not to participate this season,” said Coach Myers. “This is typical when there is a coaching change.”

But beyond Heline, the Viking boys also return Stephen Peterson, a senior who placed fifth at the league meet in 2019, and juniors Garrett Huffman, Lukas Apel, and Justice Gardner who placed eighth, tenth, and seventeenth at the league meet as sophomores.

While Lambert will highlight the Lady Vikings Olivia Bengtson returns afte3r placing sixth at the league meet in 2019 as just a freshman. Seniors Kajsa Peterson, who finished ninth at the league meet, and Ellise Peterson, who was injured last season before the league meet, along with junior Lydia Peterson also supply Coach Myers with plenty of contending runners.

Among the newcomers which Coach Myers who could make a difference will be sophomore Tytus Reed who played football last season but as an eighth grader won the league track meet in in the 3,200 meters and finished second in the 1,600. On the girls side, Myers noted freshman Kenzie Heline and sophomore Adrien Lochard as ones to watch in providing solid depth.

“According to one ranking our boys are listed as the third best team in Class 3A,” commented Coach Myers. “If we can stay healthy this season, it will be extremely difficult for anybody to take away a run for titles from this group. We are looking to be competitive each week and with just a few practices in, it has been impressive with the kids’ attitude and effort.”

When discussing the Lady Viking runners, Coach Myers explained, “The girls are ranked fourth in Class 3A preseason polls and with only eight girls out, including two in their first year of running, our good health is obviously of paramount importance. Gracie (Lambert) has had a pretty strong summer of lifting and running, and our two other seniors are going to be good leaders and have plenty of talent. We will need some help from the lower two classes, but if we stay healthy, we can be competitive as well. I like our girls’ chances.”

Closing out his pre-season reflections, Coach Myers talked about the new normal by saying, “The kids are dealing with masks in warmups and when we are around one another, and we do have some work to do in social distancing in ‘huddles’ and such things. We will get there, and it will obviously be a different type of season. We will not be allowed to compete at Rim Rock in September, for example, and the Hesston Meet (which is normally huge) is going to run with just four to six teams at a time throughout the day with no spectators allowed. Other changes will happen, and we will just have to roll with it. All of this is better than not having a season, so we are trying to preach diligence and being smart. We will not know what regionals or state will look like, but I am guessing that state may end up being two classes per location, so another location would need to be procured.”

The Viking cross country teams open their 2020 season with a home meet on Thursday, September 3.

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