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Admirals look to defend home turf in region meet

Danville’s cross country team could send two teams to the state meet for the first time in a decade.

To do that, the Admirals will have to use their home-course advantage to make it out of a tough region meet on Saturday at Admiral Stadium.

The girls team should qualify for state, though it’ll be tough to take first place in the region. Star runner Lisa Voyles is ranked eighth in the state and third in the region. The region is paced by Lexington Christian and best-in-class runner Anna Rupp.

“I talked to the girls yesterday about it. We’re in a very tough region,” head coach Chris Verhoven said. “We could get as low as fourth or fifth in our region and still be in the top 10 or 12 in the state, if you go by rankings. But it’s hard to determine if those rankings are accurate in cross country, you can run a low time on an easy course. You just don’t know, but just use the law of averages and assume they’re pretty close, use them as a guide. We’re probably within 10 points of being anywhere from second to fifth. It’s going to be really tight.”

Rankings aren’t quite like track and field, where measurements and distances are universal. Cross country courses, meet participants and weather all can be major impacts on a runner’s time.

But Verhoven likes what he has seen from his girls’ times.

“The trend has been times dropping for our girls,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty good about it. We’ve gotten to the point where we just count on Lisa to have a great time. Kiah Earle has really established herself at the front of that freshman class. Our only wild card is that four and five spot. Ellise Meaux has been consistent as our No. 4 runner, Mackenzie Matthews has been all over the place depending on the week. Claire Strysick has been consistently dropping her times as well.”

Verhoven voiced concern about Holly Helmers, who was injured in the final girls soccer game of the season. She’d be a top three runner for the Admirals.

“Her goal is to be as healthy as she can be on Saturday,” Verhoven said.

The head coach said he’d be bringing up eighth-grader Chole Strysick to round out his seven competitors.

“With cross country, you always bank on your best runners but it’s your No. 4 and 5 runners that dictate your team placement,” Verhoven said. “Chloe has run middle school and has been very successful, but she hasn’t run in a 5K yet. She’s done awesome at 4K meets in middle school. She’ll probably be our fourth or fifth runner. Right now that’s our seven.

“I’m feeling pretty good about the girls, they’re acting confident and we haven’t made a big deal one way or the other. We’ve approached it, I’m not concerned whether or not they go to state, it’s just what place they’ll be going to state. It’s a matter of what place you’re getting. And they’re going to have some good competition, our region is loaded.”

And Verhoven isn’t worried about a lack of experience on his team: Claire Strysick has the most running experience but has been consistent. Voyles, another senior, is in her first year running cross country. The rest of the team are freshmen and an eighth-grader.

“I know sometimes in a lot of sports, a lot of situations, experience is a good thing,” Verhoven said. “But in this case, I think lack of experience is a good thing. They don’t feel the pressure of being a senior and if we don’t win, it’s my last chance. From that perspective, they’re loose and they’ve been running well. They know they’re coming back and in Lisa’s case, she’s already got a scholarship. I think it just takes the pressure off, we’ve got four freshmen and an eighth grader. There’s no pressure on them this year.”

Voyles has a great chance to prove herself with the state’s elite because the meet is full of talented runners.

“Lisa, she’s just so driven. She’s only ranked third in the region and she’s eighth in the whole state,” Verhoven said. “I think that’s great for her. She’s not going to be expected to go out and win the region. The No. 1 ranked kid in the class is in our region. Go after her and your times will drop even more.”

Verhoven’s boys team has an outside shot at making the state meet for the first time this decade. Similar to the girls team, it’ll depend on who shows up as the No. 4 and 5 runners.

“The way we have qualifying now, we have an outside shot at making state this year,” Verhoven said. “Rankings don’t show that I should have confidence. But Jesse (Cummings) and Sam (Gibson) have been solid as our top two runners, Brady Bischoff has established himself as a solid No. 3.”

Verhoven will bring up two eighth-grade boys, Iain McAlister and Holden McKnight, both of whom haven’t ran a varsity meet but have shown promise at the middle school level.

“They haven’t ran (varsity) all year. But they may be my 4 and 5 runners,” Verhoven said. “Iain has been really good from a middle school perspective all year long. We just need somebody to step up out of that group.”

One worry for Verhoven? Weather. Rain all day Friday could soak the course, and a chilly Saturday morning could slow times.

“Now, the weather worries me. We’ve got this beautiful week and then Friday it’s supposed to pour,” he said. “Saturday might not be too bad, it’ll just be soaked and cold. Runners might enjoy that. Me standing out there, I won’t enjoy it. The course looks awesome right now so hopefully it won’t affect it too bad.”

It’s the course that’ll be the biggest benefit for the Admirals: Danville’s team doesn’t have to wake up early to take a bus ride to the meet. They have the luxury of knowing the course better than any other runner.

“We talked about that yesterday: You all know this course, every blade of grass,” Verhoven said. “You know every spot you can make a move, every spot that is difficult. The other teams don’t have a clue. Home court is so overdone in sports, a court is a court in basketball. Football fields are still 100 yards. Cross country, you know when that hill is coming up, you know when there’s a sharp turn or a root on the right side. Of all the events, cross country home course advantage is better than anything. Because nobody else knows what to expect like we do.”

Danville will host the Class AAA Region 6 meet in the early morning, with Class A Region 5 set for 10:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. start times.