‘Tight-Knit’ RC Harriers Optimistic

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Summer running and experience should benefit the Rock-bridge County High School boys and girls cross country teams, who start their season today. The Wildcats have 31 runners out this year, five more than last year, with 20 boys and 11 girls.

At the helm for the what she said is a “very tight-knit group” is head coach Julie Tisone, who coached the boys’ team for her first three years and has stepped up at the helm of both teams, after longtime RC girls’ coach Chris Bowring retired at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Coming onboard to help Tisone is assistant coach Peter Jet-ton, who followed the team the last few years, supporting his daughter, Violet, a varsity runner who graduated in the spring. Jetton ran in high school and college and competes in ultra trail races. He is the director of the annual Nasty 9 Trail Run and 4-Mile Challenge, which will take place on Sept. 21 at Brushy Hills.

“He definitely brings a lot of experience to the team,” said Tisone of Jetton. “His superpower is staying calm in every situation, which is definitely a strength when working with a big group of teens.”

The RC boys graduated their top runner from last season, Tieran McClure, who placed 20th at the Class 3 state meet. However, they return nine runners and welcome 11 newcomers. Tisone said the boys are aiming to make it to the state meet as a team. Last year, they placed third in the Valley District Meet and fifth at the Region 3C Meet, two places from advancing to the state meet.

Leading the way is senior Josh Wawrzyniak, who finished 15th at the state meet last year in his debut cross country season. Joining Wawrzyniak in the top three are senior co-captains Owen Hall and John Ryan Sedovy, who both consistently finished in the Wildcats’ top five last year. Tisone said her top three boys “have all been on my team several years and are year-round athletes in several sports. They know what it means to be an athlete and to commit to the team. They all ran during the summer and come every day to practice, ready to go.”

Tisone said the rest of her boys are “looking strong and are all contenders for varsity spots.”

Two returning runners who made the top seven for the varsity team at the Region 3C Meet last year are juniors Pierson Hull and Kyle Kendall.

Also returning for the RC boys are seniors Henry Haywood and Adam Saacke, junior Howie Youngdahl and sophomore Lincoln Garcia.

New to the team are senior John Gearhart, juniors Michael Gilbert and Jackson West, sophomore Jacob Ivins and seven freshmen: Patrick Calomeris, Brice Hall, John Hill, Zeke Mohr, Pieter Nelson, Maxwell Pearson and Jackson Wasser.

The RC girls graduated three seniors from last year’s top seven: state qualifier Sarah Torrence, who is on the cross country team at Grinnell College in Iowa, all-state track runner Faerin Dick and Violet Jetton. Last year, the Lady Wildcats placed second at the district meet and fifth at regionals.

This year, the RC girls are young, with eight freshmen joining four senior returnees. “They would like to work well as a team and bring back the famous ‘Cat Pack’ in the meets,” Tisone said, referring to the team’s tradition of running as a pack throughout their 5-kilometer courses and finishing closely together.

The Lady Wildcats’ co-captains are seniors Liesel Nelson and Aili Waller, who consistently ran in the team’s top seven last year. Like the boys’ captains, Tisone said, they “are natural leaders. Their teammates listen to them and follow what they do. They are also good role models with a strong work ethic. They come to practice every day and put in 100 percent.”

Also returning for her senior season and expected to lead the Wildcats is Karalyn Timmes, who was the Wildcats’ second runner at the end of last season, placing 13th in the district to earn all-district honors and finishing 24th in the region. “She is very dedicated to running,” Tisone said. “She has attended several local running clinics and ran a lot of summer miles.”

RC’s other senior is Virginia “Dreamer” Coleman, who ran some varsity races last year and is expected to step up more this season.

The eight freshmen for the Lady Wildcats are Carolina Dickovick, Sophia Fafatas, Abby Hickman, Jessa Hoover, Ellie Mastin, Elizabeth McClung, Grace Rollins and Megan Timmes.

In the Valley District, with the departure of defending boys’ champion Fort Defiance, Tisone expects Broadway and Spotswood to be the Wildcats’ toughest competition. In the region, defending boys’ and girls’ champion Western Albemarle should provide the biggest challenge.

Tisone believes the Wildcats are well prepared, having dedicated themselves to their summer running, led by the captains. Thirteen Wildcats went to a cross country running camp at Douthat State Park earlier this month. Tisone also helped at a running camp this summer in Michigan, led by Virginia Military Institute head cross country coach Drew Ludtke, where she learned how to help each runner improve through strength and form.

The Wildcats will have one home meet this year, scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m. against Valley District rivals. Instead of the Virginia Horse Center, the home course will be at Natural Bridge State Park, just off Golf Course Road, with a big hill on the course that leads to one of the most scenic views in the area. “The spectators will love it,” Tisone said.

The Wildcats’ first meet will be the Ragged Mountain Valley Cup today at Wilson Memorial High School, starting at 5 p.m.

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