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Western Albemarle's Gannon Willcutts approaches the finish line in the 2014 Ragged Mountain Cup cross country race at Panorama Farms in Earlysville. Willcutts tied for first place overall with a time of 10:13, tying with Charlottesville's Riley Covert. Photo / Ryan M. Kelly / The Daily Progress

While Western Albemarle cross country coach Lindy Bain is always excited for the start of the season, the long-time head Warrior has an extra pep in his step heading into this fall. After cruising to a Conference 29 championship and fourth-place finish in the 3A state meet last season, Bain has a team capable of winning it all in 2015.

The Warriors return a host of contributors from last year’s squad, headlined by 2014 Central Virginia Runner of the Year Gannon Willcutts. Willcutts, who has been a fixture on the local and national running scene for the past two years, is primed for another big season.

Last fall, Willcutts claimed first-place finishes at the Ragged Mountain Cup, the Fork Union Invitational, the Jefferson District meet, the Conference 29 meet and the 3A West regional meet. Willcutts finished runner-up in the state meet behind Loudoun Valley’s Andrew Hunter. Hunter and Loudoun Valley High School have moved up to the 4A classification this fall, leaving Willcutts as the only returning top-three finisher from the 2014 3A championship race.

After a standout winter and spring in the Western track programs, Willcutts qualified for nationals, but elected to spend the summer training for his final cross country season at WAHS. With numerous school and personnel bests locked up before his senior year, Willcutts has eyes on several longstanding records, and the talented runner will look to further cement his ever-growing legacy this season.

“[Willcutts]” is probably going to be the best runner we’ve ever had,” Bain said of his impactful senior. “He’ll probably end up being the fastest ever [at Western] on the track, and he’s already the fastest for cross country. He’s got a whole lot of tools, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a runner with all the tools that he’s got.”

Willcutts will garner most of the attention this fall, but Western Albemarle features several other runners who could potentially be some of the area’s finest athletes. Fellow senior Trevor Stutzman would be the No. 1 runner on many teams across the state, but he will run second behind Willcutts at WAHS. Renowned for his skills on the track, Stutzman had a breakout season last fall. Stutzman was fourth in both the Blacksburg Invitational and Jefferson District meet before finishing right behind first-place Willcutts at the 3A regional competition.

Senior Jack Ehlenberger and sophomore David Greene round out a strong top four for Western Albemarle. Senior Carter Megahan, junior Matthew Capshaw and sophomore Max Feuerlein add quality depth to the lineup.

 

Western girls turn to new runners

While the Western boys get to wait a year before they are forced to reload, the girls' team will spend this season figuring out its top group. The Warrior girls have bid farewell to several program mainstays, including Annie Lorenzoni, Chance Masloff and 2014 Central Virginia Girls Runner of the Year Annie Taylor. Western must replace the bulk of its top seven, but the Warriors' top two runners, junior Avery Witt and sophomore Zoe Clay, are strong. Clay finished 14th at the 3A state meet last fall and she, along with Witt, will help lead the reloading effort in Crozet.

 

Lorenzoni leads Albemarle boys

Other than Willcutts’ quest to become the top runner this area has ever seen, a regime change at Albemarle High School is the biggest storyline in Central Virginia cross country this fall. Long-time Patriots coach Buz Male retired following the 2014 season. Former assistant coach Adrian Lorenzoni took the head whistle following Male’s retirement. Son of Ragged Mountain Running Shop owner, Mark Lorenzoni, Adrian Lorenzoni was strongly recommended by Male to be his successor. The younger Lorenzoni is entering his fourth season at Albemarle, and feels that he has learned how to be a coach, a leader, and a mentor from his former boss.

“Other than my family, [Male] has been the second-biggest influence on my life,” Lorenzoni said. “When I moved back into town, I was kind of trying to figure out my life, and after getting involved with this program, I instantly fell in love with the kids and I fell in love with the culture, and when Buz gave his lessons to the kids, I always listened and learned a lot from him.

“It’s kind of like being handed a silver platter, first with this being my first head coaching job, and how [Male] trained everyone here.”

Lorenzoni takes over a team in transition. The Patriots must replace their top five runners from a season ago. AHS graduated four impact seniors, and former No. 2 runner Hunter Lund departed for Missouri in the offseason. Senior Ben Gersbach is a former state champion in both the 800 meter and the 4x8 competitions, and will look to translate his skills from the track to the course. Henry Cohen, who has raced at the state meet the past two years as the No. 6 and 7 runner, respectively, will see his role dramatically increase in 2015. Fellow senior Jack Bailey is coming off of an impressive outing in the 10-miler, and the senior will look to make an impact in his final season at AHS.

 

Patriot girls return

On the girls' side, the Patriots were one of the youngest teams in the area last year, but head coach Cathy Coffman returns her top 10 runners. The Albemarle girls featured several freshmen playing prominent roles on the team last season, and the now-sophomores are ready to a big step forward.

Albemarle had three rookies finish in the top 30 at states last fall. Kenzie Lloyd finished 15th, Jenn Wendelken placed 24th and Ryan Helmers checked in at 28th. Seniors Gwen Pattison and Sheila Ford bring a wealth of experience and will help balance out the talented sophomore class.

 

Mustangs have talent

Across town, Monticello head coach Doug Bloor is entering his ninth season at MHS, and he could very well have his most talented girls team yet. The Mustangs return four of their top five runners from last season’s team that had a fifth place finish at the 3A state meet. MHS continued its momentum during the outdoor track season, and three girls from the all-state 4x800 relay will attempt to help the cross country team climb the ladder in the tough 3A West region.

Laura Habermeyer, Gena Lewis and Renee Craft will look to return to the state meet once again, and will welcome in a host of newcomers to the team. In addition, Haley Stern missed time with an injury last fall, and the senior will look to close out her cross country career on a positive note this year.

While the girls are loaded with veterans, the boys must replace their entire top five runners from the 2014 squad. Senior Harrison Wesson will step into a leadership role, and freshman Eli Keith could work his way to the top of the lineup.

 

Flucos move down

Starting this athletic season, the Fluvanna Flucos will move down to 3A and join Western and Monticello in the ultra-competitive Conference 29. The Fluvanna boys will usher in a new era, but will have to do it without former senior leader Travis Moe. Moe has moved on, but current seniors Keegan Camanelli, Jonathan Corbin, Morgan Milburn and Andy Riddler will look to carry on the tradition of Fluvanna cross country.

The Fluco girls finished seventh in states last November, thanks in large part to a quartet of freshmen. Kristen Cabrera had a breakout rookie season, and the now-sophomore finished a team-beat 11th place in the 4A meet. Fellow returning sophomores Haley Kennedy and Saige Haney will look to build off their success from a season ago. Senior Bridget Bossong and junior Jackie Rodriguez will bring veteran leadership to the young Fluvanna team.

 

Private schools

Many of Central Virginia's private schools are ready to make some noise on the course this fall. Saint Anne’s-Belfield appears poised to take another step forward in year two of the Sintayehu Taye era. The STAB girls finished fifth in the state meet last November despite being one of the youngest schools in all of Division I. Much of the rise of the STAB girls’ program has been due to senior Maddie Hunter. Hunter has been running varsity cross country since before her freshman year of high school, and has been the program’s top runner for the past several seasons.

“[Hunter] has been a cornerstone of the success of our cross country program in recent years,” Taye noted. “While she has emerged as our top runner, she still comes to practice everyday willing to work hard. I appreciate her leadership especially to our younger runners.”

Fellow returners Elizabeth Ward, Clara Duffy and Javaneh Brown will look to help the Saints finish even higher this season. On the boys' side, look for Evan Colavincenzo, Conrad Mackethan, Asher Ardron, Evan Swett and Sebastian Cave help put the program on the map.

Woodberry Forest finished third in the Division I meet, just two points behind second-place Bishop O’Connell. The Tigers will arrive on campus on Thursday, giving head coach Ben Hale a first glimpse of his 2015 squad. With so little turnaround time before the first meet, WFS often doesn’t hit its stride until later in the season. Senior Robert Singleton will reprise his role as the team’s No. 1 runner. Singleton finished fifth at states on his home course, just narrowly behind the fourth and third place runners. Singleton is one of the few known commodities at this point for the resurgent Tigers. Hale is looking for big things from juniors Jonathan Hernandez, Parker Jacobs, James Carrington and Clay Tydings.

“Our kids scatter to the winds in June,” Hale noted. “Most are busy with abroad programs, camp counselor jobs, and other commitments. Serious and uniform summer training is always a huge challenge. We just start where we are, try to be as efficient as possible, and do the best we can in 8 weeks.”

Fork Union finished a distant fourth behind Woodberry in the state meet. Senior Alex Loman placed first at the championship meet with a time of 16:50.76. Loman will not have the benefit of his older brother Peter being on the roster anymore, but the Blue Devils return a host of contributors, including sophomore Julian Yescas and junior Jared Cesar. 

A trio of veteran captains will lead the Covenant boys’ team. Senior John Dyke, along with juniors Andrew Rapp and Chase Carson will lead the Eagles in their quest for a Division II crown. Dyke was leading the pack at the beginning of the state race last November, and Carson finished a team-high 16th at the championship meet.

The Covenant girls’ team represents one of the area’s fastest growing programs. The Eagles return all but one runner from last year and pick up 10 new girls as well. Covenant is loaded with young talent, including a pair of impact eighth graders. Emma Lawson claimed the JV Ragged Mountain Cup last fall, and fellow eighth-grader Ella Dalton is poised to make an impact in her first year with the Eagles. Senior Kathryn Grant and junior co-captain Emma Breault will help get the many newcomers acclimated to head coach Margret Marshall’s program.

The runners at the Miller School have the rare duty of balancing cross country training with cycling and mountain bike racing. With road cycling season still in session, the Mavericks will likely not be at full strength until late September. Junior leader Thomas Mariutti returns and will look to recreate the success he had two seasons ago. That same year, Mariutti claimed the Brazilian Time Trial National Championship. Look for newcomers Gentry Jefferson and freshman Lucas Mariutti to take on big roles in their first years with the program.

The 2015 cross country season begins in earnest on Tuesday with the annual Ragged Mountain Cup at Panorama Farms. 

Drew Goodman is a correspondent for The Daily Progress.

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