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Boys Cross Country Preview: Can Martinez repeat success?

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    Palmerton’s Jake Martinez was the District 11 Class 1A boys cross country champion. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Weatherly’s Scotty Zoscin finished third in 1A at the District 11 cross country championship on Wednesday. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published August 31. 2018 06:34PM

The return of Palmerton’s Jake Martinez, the defending District 11 Class A champion, highlights the boys cross country picture for area teams.

JIM THORPE

PLENTY OF TALENT ... Jim Thorpe has a wealth of experienced runners returning this season. Seniors acob Lippincott, Blake Killmer, Joseph Powierski, Samuel Hydro, Dominick Bierman and Noah Rodgers, juniors James Schwartz, Paul Onuskanich and Sean Soden, and sophomores Logan Pachulski, Brandyn Thompson, Ian McCoy, John O’Toole and Marc Waslesyn give head coach Drew Benyo optimism the squad can improve on its 13-4 mark from a year ago. “We have very, very strong senior leadership. The entire returning team came back from the summer in great shape. Times from this time last year on our course to this year are amazing. So much improvement. A great deal of talent from the lower grades, and the new freshmen are really good, and will only get better,” said Benyo, entering his 31st season as head coach.

Hydro is coming off a stellar track season and a strong campaign last fall, finishing 10th at districts to qualify for states.

OTHERS TO WATCH ... Benyo is hoping junior Ian Susko and freshmen Gabriel Heaney, David Griffin, Benjamine Seachrist, Colin Shedaker, Caleb McDermott and Georgiy Sakharon to step up and fill the void left by Chris Valdez, Anthony Defeo and Nujai Wolcott. “There are no weaknesses at this time. We have an outstanding group that are dedicated to doing as well as the 2013 and 2014 teams did. We have a load of young eager kids ready to move up,” said Benyo.

READY TO ROLL ... With a nice mix of experience and youth on the roster, Benyo is ready for the season to get started. “We are very eager for the season to start. We have amazing and dedicated athletes who realize this is their time to reach their potential. If we can lose four less meets this year, which we are almost certain we can, we can be Schuylkill League Division 1 Champions. That is our goal, just like every other Cross Country team in the Schuylkill League,” he said.

QUOTABLE ... “I have not had a group of runners that look and perform like Christian and Nathaniel Fields, Jake and Ben Saxon, Zach Nace, Jake McGeehan, Jon Condly, Dillan Johnson, Jian Gentile, Jason Montemuro, Dylan Bucior and Chris Valdez did when they went 11 — 0and won the Division 1, League Meet Championship, and finished second at the District 11 meet in 2013 and 2014. This is an amazing group of dedicated and committed young people who know the benefit of hard work. The season will tell how much they want that success,” Benyo.

LEHIGHTON

SENIOR LEADERSHIP ... Pagotto has an experienced group of upperclassmen returning. Seniors Evan Beers, Addison Howland and Alex Schwab along with junior Adamcik will be counted on to lead the Tribe this season.

NEW FACES ... Along with returnees Gavin Sherer (senior), Cameron Zerbe (senior) and Ben Mathisen (senior), Pagotto will also be looking for Logan Lichtenwalner (junior), Evan Deem (junior), Matt Smith (junior), Colby Nichols (junior), Will Kocher (junior), Michael Rodriguez (sophomore), Max Hoffman (sophomore) and freshmen Darian Johnson, Bryon DePaz and Brandon Hall to fill out the squad. “We have strength in numbers. We’ve had a few new runners who joined our team this season,” she said.

SPLIT SQUAD ... Some of Pagotto’s runners will be busy with more than just Cross Country this fall. “Some runners have other commitments, such as work and other sports, and sometimes they overlap with our practices and meets,” said Pagotto, entering her sixth year as head coach.

OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK ... With so much returning talent and many newcomers on the squad, Pagotto has little doubt the Indians will improve on last year’s 5-11 mark. “The boys are looking strong this year and I think they are going to have a favorable season,” she said.

QUOTABLE ... “We have a great group of guys who really work well together. They encourage each other, push each other, and work hard while having a good time. They are a wonderful group to coach,” Pagotto.

MARIAN

SIX DEPARTED ... Tom Kostic isn’t sure where things fall into place for his boys’ runners, but he does know that the loss of seven runners (six graduates 1 transfer) makes it a whole new outlook.

OUT OF THE PICTURE ... The Colts bid adieu to graduates Eddie Pulaski, Aaron Srinivasan, Zaccary Roberts, Henry Kreisl, Joseph DeLash, Joseph Jordan. And Brandon Stasulli returned to Shenandoah Valley in November.

ON THE DECK ... A trio of experience runners all are in the 10th grade. So how much experience does Kostic have here? “They’re dedicated and they work very hard. We will get them ready as the season moves forward,” mentioned Kostic.

PAVING THE WAY .., The three sophomore runners that will carry the team include Justen Arriaga, Gavin Vercusky and Maxwell Schwabe.

HELP ON THE WAY ... Two seniors are out for the first time in Zack Mauro and Joseph McGinley. In with the new are sophomores Ean Chelka and Kevin Early while freshman Robert Jones will get his feet wet before the first leaves turn to autumn color.

WHERE THEY STAND ... Kostic is a veteran mentor and knows how to bring runners along. He will spoon feed this team, but push them as the season gets to late October. “Obviously as you can tell, we’re a young team that we need to develop as the season goes ahead.”

NORTHERN LEHIGH

VETERAN PRESENCE ... Head coach Dave Oertner is entering his 37th season as head coach. Oertner has compiled a 554-283 record coaching the boys during his tenure. Overall, Oertner has a record of 986-657. His assistants are Lori-Beth Guelcher, and Amy Zeiser (middle school). Zeiser has been coaching for 12 years, while Guelcher has done so for three.

SEASONED ... While the Bulldogs will have to replace the likes of Klye Krempasky, Hunter Haas and Jason Pepe from last year’s 8-16 team, Oertner has still has an experienced group to lean on. Look for seniors Nate Keller, Preston Kemery, CJ Davies and Edge Kroll, along with juniors Josh Kubushefski, Ivan Zheng and sophomore Hunter Zehner to score in most meets this season. “This is a senior laden team. Hopefully, that senior leadership will translate into great effort and development as the season goes along. Individually, Preston Kemery was our top runner last year and he has been our strongest runner at practice so far this season. He has a legitimate shot to be a state qualifier this season,” said Oertner.

MORE THE MERRIER ... Northern Lehigh will be competing in several invitationals this season. The Bulldogs will run at the Lion Invitational, the DeSales Invite and possible the PIAA Foundation event, which is held in Hershey on the same course used for the state cross country meet.

FRESH LEGS? ... Oertner is confident in his upperclassmen, but knows the team will need to find more depth to contend in the Colonial League. “Our greatest glaring weakness would be our lack of depth. We have picked up a few younger athletes but they will need some development before they can contend with the more established competitors in the league. We should be able to hold our own over the first few places but we will need our younger runners to develop quickly if we hope to have team success. We have a good nucleus of experienced athletes returning and if they each improve a bit over last season, we could have a very competitive season. Our attitudes so far have been excellent. The group as a whole needs to stay healthy; and if things go well, a winning record is a reasonable goal,” he said.

QUOTABLE ... “As a whole, this is a small but quality group of athletes. A number of them have shown great dedication over the summer preparing for the season, and I truly hope that their effort translates to the success they deserve on the race course,” Oertner.

NORTHWESTERN

REBUILDING … Last season, the Tigers finished 16-8 in the Colonial League. This year, a graduation hit in the lineup and some early season injuries have caused some concern. But expect Stitzel to have his Tigers primed to keep the tradition strong.

BIG LOSSES … The Tigers are in search of new front runners since they’re without their top two runners from last season. Both Robert Leiser, who finished fifth at Districts, and Phillip Castrine, who finished 12th, have graduated.

RETURNEES … Junior Matt Boushell returns to push to the front, while sophomores Kane Flickinger (twisted his ankle in pre-season) and Joseph Pleban (breathing issues in scrimmage) look to rebound from injuries.

YOUNG TEAM… There are no seniors on the squad. So, everyone will return to the program next year.

BRIGHT FUTURE … Freshmen Joe Chukoskie and Cole Chukoskie, and sophomore Zach Randall round out the top five on the boys’ side. freshman Jared Stitzel figures to be in the mix as well. And while this season may be a bit of a transition year, Stitzel said the future is bright. “I have a great group of middle school guys that will move up next year, “ Stitzel said. “I’m looking forward to the next couple of years. We just have to make sure we stay healthy this year.”

GOALS .. The Tigers’ seasoned mentor has set the standard for his squad this season “I just want to be competitive and see how we do,” Stitzel said. “My goal is to get at least .500 in the league, and then we will see what happens.”

PALMERTON

SECOND ACT ... Joshua Nenscel is entering his second season as the Blue Bombers’ head coach. Nenscel’s assistant is Mike Martinez.

ENCORE ... Jake Martinez enjoyed a stellar season last fall. Martinez was fourth at the Colonial League meet and won a District 11 Class A title and finishing 60th at states. Look for Martinez to be even stronger as a senior.

DO THE WORK ... Nenscel has liked what he’s seen so far, and hopes the team can improve on last year’s 4-20 record. “We have a hard training plan that started June 18, and have seen a lot of good results thus far,” he said.

BRIGHT FUTURE ... “Numbers are still low, but there are 38 on the junior high team, so the outlook is good,” said Nenscel.

PLEASANT VALLEY

MILESTONE ... The 2018 season marks George Fair’s 20th as head coach at Pleasant Valley. He is assisted by Rick Rimple.

RELOADING ... Pleasant Valley will have to replace state qualifiers in Luke Valdevit and Ryan Murphy. The Bears will also have to replace their other five varsity runners from last year’s 13-4 team.

STEPPING UP ... Fair is eager to see what the squad’s newcomers can do. Nathan Borger (senior) and Evan Fisher-Perez (junior) should be team leaders, with juniors Mark Edgar, Owen James, Vignesh Ramachandran, and Josh Shaffner, along with sophomores Jon Weichand, Cody Coman and Ethan Conklin expected to contribute. “We have many runners competing for varsity spots. It could be a challenging year, but there is an opportunity for younger runners to make a difference,” Fair commented.

BUSY BEAR... Schaffner was the Times News Boys Tennis Player of the Year this past spring.

QUOTABLE ... “We can be successful if the top-13 runners challenge one another all season for the top-seven varsity spots,” Fair.

TAMAQUA

I’LL BE MISSING YOU ... The Blue Raiders were socked with graduation losses, including the highly heralded Brad Clemson. Clemson won the Schuylkill League championship. Toss in seven other graduates — Isaac Miller, Dari Miller, Brandon Heffelfinger, Xavier Cuadro, Zack Davidson, Nathaniel Davidson and Luis Ferandez and this program took a huge hit.

TOP RETURNEES ... Coach Tom Kanger is excited about three returning veterans in senior Derian Stianche, and juniors Christopher Osenbach and Brandon Fogarty. “They’re motivated for a good 2018,” pointed out the successful coach.

WE NEED HELP ... Kanger knows how to prep a team that is green and if seniors John Buchalaand Danile Chinchar, along with sophomore Andrew Fiorilla have strong seasons, things could turn in favor of the Blue Raiders come October.

LET US COUNT THE WAYS ... There are five new faces darting through the running trail at the Tamaqua Sports Complex, including freshmen Alec Humes, Liam Borden and Phoenix Ritchie. Sophomores Tait Ehrig and Nathaniel Kovalchick could also make an impact and create much needed depth.

LIKE WHAT HE SEES ... Kanger doesn’t push panic buttons, he just pushes his runners never to panic. “We’ve got a lot of growing pains for this team, but we have some experience. We have to wait and see.”

WEATHERLY

BUBBLING WITH HOPE ... Coach Paul Schertrumpf is fired up about his boys team. “This is going to be a fun group to watch and mature,” he said.

IMPACT ... There are four potential standouts that can push the opposition to the finish line led by sophomore Scotty Zoscin. Not only is Zoscin a factor as a runner, he’s a standout hoops player, too. There is also a trio of seniors that are tested runners in Nick Berger, Anthony Maguschak and Derek Houser. “We certainly can hold our own with our veterans and if they have good seasons we will push the other teams to take notice.”

LEGGING IT OUT ... Weatherly has five first-time runners out of the squad. “What it does for us with those freshmen it will help us build depth, something we need in order to compete,” mentioned the third-year Weatherly coach. The frosh are Ricky Ray, John Walton, Jordan Mitchell, Freddie Willis and Brady Waters.

CALLING IT AS HE SEES ... All five freshmen were finished in the top 15 at the Schuylkill League Junior High meet this past season. With Zoscin returning as a state qualifier, and veterans Maguschak, Houser and Berger, has Schertrumpf thinking the Wreckers can be a contender.

Sam Matta and TJ Engle also contributed to this story.

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