Coming off one of the best season's in school history, Elkhart Memorial boys cross country coach Adam Homo is hoping to make the Crimson Chargers' final season, one to remember.
Last fall, Memorial won the Northern Lakes Conference Meet, the Elkhart Sectional and Elkhart Regional championships, before falling short in a power-packed New Haven Semi-State.
"We are looking for individual improvement,'' Homo admitted. "At this point, we are merely five runners deep, although some of the underclassmen are working hard to fill the gaps. We lost a lot of depth in terms of our top 10 from last year and we will have to improve throughout the season in order to have a good run during the IHSAA tournament. At this point, we are extremely thin.''
Leading the returnees are three seniors with semi-state experience, Neil Terrell, Juan Cepero and Daniel Brown, along with junior Luis Cruz-Portillo. Joshua Dibley, Alex Lefever, Chad McAlexander, Teagen Rodriguez and Vincent Williams are a few of the upperclassmen Homo is looking to jumpstart the Chargers this fall.
"I think we'll be better at the end of the season,'' Homo added. "We are going to have to focus on individual improvement each time we race so that we are prepared for the end of the season.''
In fact, it's a major changing of the guard all over the area, as 12 of the top 13 runners at last season's Elkhart Sectional at Ox Bow Park, have graduated. Only Concord's Luke Owings returns from 2018.
Meanwhile, Elkhart Central lost two strong runners in Nathan Dibley and Elias Soto, but head coach Bekah Shenk still has a talented group returning from a team that qualified for regional and semi-state in 2018.
Sergio DeLaCruz, Jose Quinones, Jay Vindel and Eric Garcia will be counted on to supply leadership and continue to build the Blazer program.
"We want to build on the team's success from last year,'' Shenk said. "I'm hopeful our returnees are ready to take over where Nathan and Elias left off last season. Plus, there is a strong group competing for the remaining varsity spots. This will be our final year as Blazers and we want it to be the best.''
Although he's lost some pieces from a strong 2018 team, Concord coach Matt Nicoson will have one of the area's top returnees in Owings and a deep team that should get stronger as the year goes on.
"Even though we lost a couple key varsity guys to graduation and one to soccer, we should be very competitive,'' Nicoson said. "We also welcome eight freshman and three other newcomers to the team, giving us some building blocks for the future. A couple of the freshmen could challenge for varsity spots by October, which is exciting.''
In addition to Owings the Minutemen also return Noah Wright, Will Nicoson and Ethan Smith from a team that finished second to Elkhart Memorial in the NLC Meet.
Northridge had a rare rough season in 2018, going 0-7 in the NLC with a very young team.
However, coach Ryan McClane isn't expecting the Raiders to be down for long.
"We are excited to get back at it this season,'' McClane said. "The kids had a great summer training and we have one of the biggest team's that we've had with 26 on the roster. Last year was a little disappointing, so we're hoping to be much more competitive this season.''
Among the top runners McClane is counting on this season are senior Jon Eichstadt, sophomores Jack Moore and Nathan Perez and a pair of freshmen in Jaxon Miller and Noah Zmuda.
"We still have a lot of building to do, but I look for us to get better and better as the season goes on,'' McClain said. "Then hopefully, we will be in contention for a conference title and a strong tournament showing by the time we get to October.''
Elkhart Christian is coming off an outstanding 16-2 season and coach Peter Casaletto has all but one runner returning this season.
Leading the way for the Eagles is senior Tony Maxwell, but Casaletto is counting on a strong pack behind Maxwell to possibly lead ECA to a regional berth. Josh Bevier, Omar Corona and Josiah Dyck return, while newcomer Jack Klahr and freshman Luke Schramm and Jude Reynolds will also be key pieces for Casaletto.
NorthWood head coach Justin Bell has the most runners out in school history, as 40 runners are competing for spots on this year's Panther roster.
Junior Sam Schlatter qualified for the semistate last season and could move into the No. 1 spot after the graduation of Tyler Evers. Bell is also counting on seniors Timothy Avery, Quinten Hunsberger, Cade Jackson, Carson Martin, Garrett Myers, Stephen Schmidt, Zachary Yoder and Asher Yoder to help lead the Panthers this season.
"We have six of our top seven runners returning from last season and five of those were individual regional qualifiers,'' Bell said. "I'm proud of our eight seniors and their commitment over the summer to prepare this year's team for a purposeful year.''
Jimtown coach Joe Linville returns Johnny Wiggins to hopefully run in the No. 1 slot, while sophomores Aaron de la Luz and Cameron Rink are also back for the Jimmies. Isaac Daniels will run in the second spot, but Daniels is also playing soccer and football this fall.
"Johnny had another great summer and he's anxious to forget last year's injury-plagued season,'' Linville said. "He's a student of the sport and has worked hard on his speed this summer to complement his strong base.''
Bethany Christian coach Benji Hurst has three key returnees in Aaron Yeakey, Kelby Youngberg and Jacob Plank. He's also high on the potential of freshman Sam Klopfenstein.
Fairfield is looking to rebound after a tough season and veteran coach Kirt Hunsberger has seven seniors returning.
Seth Corbin, Jordan Gates, Jared Hagerman, Jaren Hagerman, Chris Lehman, Isaak Stingel and Ethan Trammell are all looking to help the Falcons get back towards the top of the standings at the Elkhart Sectional.
Goshen finished second at the sectional last season and fourth at the regional, but the RedHawks lost their top three runners, including sectional champion Felix Perez-Diener.
Coach Mike Wynn does return two runners with semistate experience in sophomores Cole Johnston and Adrian Mora.