GRAND RAPIDS — Both the Grand Rapids High School boys and girls cross country teams will open their season next Wednesday, Aug. 28, when they compete in the Virginia Invitational.
Grand Rapids coach Steve Kohorst – who is beginning his 17th season as head coach of the Thunderhawks – said he sees positive things for both the boys and girls teams this season.
Kohorst said the Grand Rapids boys cross country team came into its own last season at the Section 7AA Meet where it took fifth.
“Out of 16 teams, we were thinking eighth, ninth, 10th,” said Kohorst. “So, that was good but we also lost probably two of our better runners to graduation.”
Returning for the Thunderhawks will be junior Sam Stertz who turned in a strong performance last year and missed out on a state berth by two seconds, sophomore Austin Hanson who also was close to nailing down a state berth, senior captain Nate Huju, senior Noah Cagle, and freshman Matej Cervenka. He feels Stertz, Hanson, and Huju all have realistic shots of running at the state meet this fall.
Others who are battling for varsity time include senior Blake Ducharme, junior Frank Gangi, and senior Lucas Berard.
“I think it will be OK,” said Kohorst. “We will see how the season goes. Virginia will give us a good indication and we can get a little barometer on what we have after that first meet.”
Kohorst said receiving basic leadership from his athletes will go a long way in helping the boys team.
“Sam Stertz has been excelling in every sport that he has been in, and you need people like him who lead by example and set the bar for the team,” Kohorst explained. “I think the kids will follow those guys. We have eight meets before sections so we will find out what we have through all that.”
Kohorst said Section 7AA contains metro and near-metro schools which dwarf Grand Rapids in respect to student enrollment. He said that makes it tough for teams from smaller schools like Grand Rapids to get to the state meet. He added that the last Grand Rapids boys team to qualify for state was in 1968.
“You have Elk River, Forest Lake, Andover, all these good teams and they have huge numbers,” Kohorst explained. “They may have 40 or 50 boys on the varsity while we are sitting here trying to pick up 10 or 15. It is definitely the bad side there for us.”
Assisting Kohorst on the coaching staff are Rachel Miesbauer, Kevin Johnson, and Alex Kelling.
It was a rebuilding season for Grand Rapids in 2018, as the team did not qualify a runner for the state meet. However, the Thunderhawks will return four runners who performed well last season. They are sophomore Morgan Troumbly, sophomore Lexi Lane, senior Jayden Hanson and sophomore Alayna King.
“These girls have to be big and pull their weight and be up there,” said Kohorst. “Then we will see who rises to the top in the pool of middle school girls that will boost us up.”
Other runners expected to contribute include sophomore Brianna Garison, sophomore Jade Sondrol, junior Katherine Eddy, freshman Samantha Baratto and freshman Sanny Gangi.
“What I am really happy about is that we have 11 girls at the middle school where we had two last year,” Kohorst said. “Now I have 11 and a lot of them look promising but I am not going to move anybody up until they have success at their actual level. I am not concerned what we do with our varsity but when we put that section team together then the appropriate girls will be moved up to the varsity.”
Kohorst said a middle-of-the-pack finish at the section meet would be good for the team as it battles the numbers game against Twin Cities schools.
“If we could be in the top half, eighth or better, it will be successful,” said Kohorst.