Northern Kentucky teams claimed two of the three state championships last year.
Conner won Class 3A for its first state crown in school history and St. Henry claimed Class 1A for the 17th in school history. That is the third-most in Kentucky High School Athletic Association history behind Louisville powers St. Xavier (24) and Trinity (20).
Class 1A appears to be loaded again with Villa Madonna and St. Henry leading the way. Villa finished second at state behind St. Henry last year.
The Vikings are the top-ranked squad in Class 1A in the pre-season.
Here’s a look at some of the top local teams as the new season nears:
Placing the top five runners in the top 11 let the Cougars run away with the Class 3A crown with 40 points.
Ryan Hanak, Joseph Impellitteri and Logan Warth took their talents to Taylor University (Indiana), the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Northern Kentucky University respectively.
But four runners off that state championship team return including seniors Drew Moore and George Johnson. They took 10th and 11th at state respectively last year. Sophomore Nathan Hopper and junior Warren Johnson also return. Two juniors that may step into roles are Joey Carroll and Charlie Hanak.
“They definitely have a good work ethic,” said Ian Johnstone, Conner head coach. “They’ve definitely put in a lot of good miles. Those (top four) should be solid again then Joey and Charlie weren’t far behind them. But there’s going to be some tough competition in our region.”
Joe Zeinner takes over the Raiders program after leading the St. Henry Crusaders to that state title.
The Raiders graduated four seniors off a team that placed seventh at Class 3A state last year.
Ryle returns with junior Tiger Bartlett, who took 19th overall at state last year. Senior Parker Turnbull and junior Evan Smith also return from that team.
Zeinner listed three juniors in the mix for the top seven spots: Andrew Price, Josh Simon and Evan Cole.
“I’m excited for Parker Turnball. He’s been on varsity for all four years and all these juniors are really hungry too,” Zeinner said. “These guys are working extremely hard. They want to fill those positions.”
Covington Catholic Colonels
The Colonels took 15th at Class 3A state last year. Sx runners from that team return, including sophomore Will Sheets, who finished 16th at state last year.
Others returning include seniors Mitchel Drees, Alex Williams and Jake Dickman, and juniors Luke Meagher and Nolan Bonta. Junior Michael Zechella could step into the seventh spot.
“Those guys were super committed even over the winter to developing as runners,” said Jeremy Mosher, CovCath head coach. “Track and field and cross country are two different sports. But you see a lot of guys take a step forward in the spring. They genuinely love the sport and I think they enjoy each other. It makes it more enjoyable when they get to come together and commit themselves to achieving big goals.”
CovCath owns two Class 2A state championships in school history, in 1982 and 1994.
Campbell County Camels
The Camels took 25th at Class 3A state last year and return all but one of those runners, including sophomore Jonathan Christopher, who took 22nd at state last year.
The three returning seniors are Brady Baker, Jackson Stewart and Colin Grothaus. Junior Aiden Bauer and eighth grader Grant Holbrook also return.
“We had several guys go to running camp this summer and worked really hard on their form and pace,” said Toni McKee, Campbell County head coach. “I know I saw several of them working over the summer at Planet Fitness. They were working on their core just doing some things that we stress with stability. You can definitely see that in their running already. We have several that are already ahead of where they were last year so we’re pretty excited to see with some experience of older runners and the speed of our younger runners how that comes together.”
The Bluebirds finished fourth at state last year after winning the Class 2A, Region 4 meet for the first time since 2015.
Three runners graduated from that team and one is not running this year.
Junior Owen McCain led the Bluebirds at state last year, finishing 32nd. The other two returning runners from state last year are junior Malcolm Robertson and senior Cameron Myers.
Head Coach Brian Alessandro noted senior John Laskey and junior Alexander Robertson as potentially key runners, along with some freshmen.
“There are just a lot of guys that can practice together and push each other, which is what makes teams good,” Alessandro said. “They’ve been around for a long time, which really helps these freshmen see what the program is like at the varsity level. We have a lot of juniors becoming veterans so they can help push the program forward.”
Scott took 23rd in Class 2A state last year but return all seven runners from that team in addition to the two seniors in Noah Foltz and Carson Berry that ran in the region race last year, but could not run at state.
The returning runners are Kyle Bentley, Will Smith, Elijah Robinson and Timothy Robinson, sophomores Cole Snyder and Jonah Hunt, and freshman Jack Fraser.
“(Foltz and Berry) really want to come back strong,” said Zach Triplett, Scott head coach. “They’ve been out here every day this summer working their tails off trying to say, ‘This is what we want to do this year. It didn’t happen last year. But this is going to be our year.’ These guys are looking to do something this program hasn’t done in quite some time. That’s to get a high-profile top 10 spot at state.”
Villa Madonna Vikings
The Vikings return all seven starters that ran in the Class 1A state meet last year. Senior Owen Kovacic led the way taking fifth place.
Three other seniors return: Keegan Davis, Joey Grannen and Ian Halpin. The other three returning runners are junior Adam Koller, and sophomores Ethan Martin and Mark Antrobus.
“Our group is deep enough where guys like Adam Koller and Ethan Martin could end up leading the way this year,” said Brian Rapien, Villa Madonna head coach. “We know St. Henry is right behind us and it’s going to be a season-long battle almost. They know they’re in for quite the campaign. Nothing is going to come easy for them. They’re going to have to work for it this year.”
St. Henry Crusaders
Jeremy Hurm takes over the program that graduated three runners from the Class 1A state championship team.
Senior Ryan Dixon leads the way after finishing state runner-up last year junior Lake Durrett comes back after taking fourth. Juniors Jeff Stewart and Jack Goodwin also return from the state championship team.
Hurm listed three runners who could step into top seven roles: seniors Tyler Goetz, Isaac Portwood and sophomore Ben Dunham.
“We started June 2 so we got an extra week of training this year, which I think really helps focus the guys,” Hurm said. “We show up every day to practice and work hard. We (recently) went to the Bluegrass Running Camp down in Campbellsville, Kentucky and it was a solid week of work down there like speed work and long run endurance days so they had it all. The guys that attended that camp seemed to benefit a lot from it.”
The Crusaders own 17 state championships in school history.
Bishop Brossart Mustangs
The Mustangs took third in Class 1A state last year and graduated three runners off that team.
Junior Nathan Ruth returns after a 12th place finish at state last year. The other three returning runners are senior Robby Beckerich, junior Nick Heck and sophomore Griffin Hill. Head Coach Chris Davis said sophomore Alex Grosser hopes to perform well, too.
“We’re pretty young,” Davis said. “We’re hoping that experience coupled with some other new runners is going to always keep us up there in contention as one of the best programs around the state. The boys know that running for Brossart is really a special thing. When we go to meets, people know Brossart has a rich tradition and they want to uphold it.”
Bishop Brossart is tied for fourth all-time with 10 state championships in school history. The last one came in 2014.
The Tigers will look different this year with the graduation of individual state champion Natnael Weldmichael and Aiden Holt.
Two runners return from the team that placed sixth at Class 1A state last year: juniors Samson Weldmichael and Robert Wilke. Senior Jack Greiner along with sophomores Javonte Cranmo and Carter Ritter are expected to fill in roles.
“Having new head coaches is hard,” said Tricia Sturgeon, Beechwood head coach. “We have to get more buy-in from some of these boys.”