The second-year head coach of the Tigers is just fine with that too.
“On paper, we have some huge gaps to fill from last year and people will say how can you do it?,” said Erba. “I don’t mind if people are overlooking us this year. I think we have a lot of learning to do as we go and we may not be world beaters at the start of the season.
“I really believe though that we can achieve some things this year. Our girls have worked hard in the offseason and put in more miles than in the past. They are faster than they were a year ago and that’s the encouraging thing. I think we have quite a few girls who will surprise some people this year.”
The Tigers, through graduation and transfers, return just one runner from its State team that placed 11th in 2011.
That one runner though is an elite one in Ashley Erba. The senior won the individual state cross country title in 2011 with a meet record time of 18:05 in the 5,000-meter race. She then won a state track title in June in the 3,200 and capped her stellar summer by winning the 5,000-meter race in a meet record time at the prestigious New Balance Outdoor Nationals in mid-June. Erba is being recruited by a host of the top college cross country programs in the nation.
“I expect Ashley to have a great senior season and to meet all of her goals,” said Erba, Ashley’s father in addition to being her prep coach. “Last year was really a breakthrough year for her. I know how confident she feels this year and how great her self-discipline and focus is.”
The Tigers do return five of their top 12 runners from last year’s team which won sectional and regional championships and was third at the semi state. Key runners back include senior Emily Stouder, Madeline Hooks and Kara Millington and sophomore Kendra Paton. Seniors Tayler Mylin and Audra Harman return and a strong freshmen group includes Brooke Rhodes, Hannah Dawson and Emma Hayward. A nice addition out for the first time is senior Sarah Ray, who also plays basketball at WCHS.
“I’m just thrilled with the group we have this year,” emphasized coach Erba. “They want to be here. They want to train and it shows by the time they invested in the summer. Emily (Stouffer) and Tayler (Mylin) really put in a lot of miles.
“We’ll be a deep team. I think that we have 14-16 runners who could on any given day be in our top seven. I’m excited about the season and where we can be as a team by the end of it. Warsaw girls cross country has not been a power in the past. That’s where I want us to go with the expectations of winning championships and competing at state.”
Warsaw opens its season Aug. 14 in the Hokum Karem Invitational in Fort Wayne.
Warriors Strong At The Top
Wawasee will boast a strong group at the top of its pack this fall.
The Warriors, who placed third at sectional and eighth at regional in 2011, return three runners. Leading the way are sophomore standouts Breanna Robinson and Courtney Linnemeier. Both were All-NLC performers a year ago with Robinson placing 17th and Linnemeier 21st at the regional. Wawasee also welcomes back senior Jen Slabaugh for her fourth year on the varsity.
Madison Miller, a promising freshman with extensive experience on the national level, will be a big addition to the program.
“Madison should step in right away and help us,” said Wawasee coach Jerid Stoffel. “Our top three should be very competitive, but we are looking for those four through seven runners to give us a little depth.
“We still need to work on races and managing the courses. But we have a great group that works hard. I just don’t think we really reached our full potential last year.”
Also expected to make contributions on the varsity level are freshman Morgan Eryman, sophomore Megan Rhodes and seniors Emma Donahoe and Tessa Riley.
Kann Back To Lead Triton
Standout Allie Kann returns to lead the way for Triton on area paths this fall.
The talented junior has earned All-NSC honors and been a semi state qualifier each of her first two prep seasons. Kann placed eighth overall at the Culver Academy Sectional, 11th at the Culver Academy Regional and 49th at the New Prairie Semistate a year ago.
A pair of key additions for coach Wes Rettinger’s team are freshman Lexi Miller and sophomore Autumn Kann, who will be running cross country for the first time.
“While we only have six girls, my expectations are pretty high,” said Triton coach Wes Rettinger. “I feel we have the strongest group from top to bottom that we’ve had in a long time. My three junior girls made it as a team to regional as freshmen and I know they were disappointed last year when they didn’t make it. They have looked good in the first two weeks of practice. Early on, I’d say we have a shot at getting to semi state if we can stay healthy.”
Triton finished 7-4 in dual meets and third in the NSC Meet in 2011.
Small Numbers For LCA
The Lakeland Christian Academy co-ed cross country team has four runners this fall.
Coach Diane Catron’s squad has three girls who will compete this fall. Senior Emilee Catron and junior Hannah Remington return from last year, while freshman Gabby Catron completes the trio.