August 21, 2012, 10:56 a.m. Updated: 29 August 2012, 12:00 a.m.
Competing at the highest level of the Crossroads Conference is always Maranatha Christian Academy’s goal when a season begins.
When practice began this month, fall sports teams looked to add to the school’s growing reputation and compete for more state championships by season’s end.
One of the more consistent cross-country programs at the 2A level, the Eagles are relying on a good season from returning runners in order to compete for the state trophy once again.
For the girls team, sophomores Lauren Harrell, Hope Manning and Taylor Morrow return after leading the Eagles to the 2A state track team title as freshmen in 2011.
The other big-time contributor for the girls will be junior Christa Johnson, rounding out the top four from last season.
“It’s nice to have all of them back because they bring experience,” coach Bianca Williams said. “They worked with each other before, so the cohesiveness is already there.”
In the first week of practice, Williams was satisfied with what she saw out of all the returning runners.
“They are coming in healthy and coming in strong,” she said. “They look great, and they look like they’re ready to take on another season.”
On the boys side, it’s a different story. Williams is breaking in seven new runners after losing six to graduation and one to transfer.
However, she’s optimistic that a large group of freshmen might be able to elevate the boys into a contender.
The five freshmen Williams said have showed promise in early practices were Ben Bailey, C.J. Shiner, Andrew Lynch, Michael Poleveya and Connor Heller.
“They will be neck and neck with each other,” she said. “Who knows what’s going to happen with the season.”
As for many cross-country teams, Williams said, the Rim Rock Invitational in Lawrence on Sept. 22 will be the test case for how the season will go.
“That’ll be a good test of where they’re at and how they are doing,” Williams said.
The Eagles begin their season against at Topeka Hayden High School at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 1.
The Eagles soccer team lost eight of its 11 starters from 2011, but second-year coach Matt Gordon sees some promise in the newcomers.
Although it will be somewhat of a rebuilding year, Gordon is confident the team will be competitive.
Gordon said that seniors Caleb Henderson and Cole Mowrer will be the key players pushing the new varsity athletes.
“From a leadership standpoint, I’ll really be relying on them to show what they really need to do,” Gordon said.
One of the young players Gordon said could be a factor is freshman Connor Heller.
It will be a busy fall for Heller as he will compete in both cross-country and soccer this season.
Although it’s a young squad, many were under Gordon’s watch last year on junior varsity, so picking up the system will not be difficult.
The Eagles began their season Friday with a 6-0 loss to Basehor-Linwood.
It was difficult for athletic director Dave Keener to find a girls tennis coach this summer.
It actually came down to three days before practice began before the position was filled.
Keener looked to be taking over the position himself, but another employee with coaching experience volunteered for the position just before the season.
Lesli Bailey now takes over for Trudy Erisman and is still getting familiar with this group.
Although it was a last-minute hire, Keener is confident she’ll do well once the season gets rolling.
“She’s excited,” Keener said. “She wanted to be a head coach and she’s been a head coach in some other sports. The girls have been anxiously awaiting who the coach was going to be.”
Now the Eagles hope that the group of seniors they have left can be competitive.
Annie Morken, Amy Siemers and Em Barnett all return from last year’s squad.
Meghan Bowlin and Bailey Kroening will also be looked upon to contribute.
The season began fast for the Eagles with three meets the first week. The girls next compete at Barstow at 4 p.m. Sept. 6
Entering her seventh year at the helm, coach Karla Stockard loses five seniors off her 2011 Crossroads Conference championship team.
And with only one week of practice, Stockard can’t be certain of her six-girl rotation, but she knows sophomore middle hitter Devyn Moore will be key for the team’s success.
Moore is one of two returning varsity players.
The squad consists of only one upperclassman, so getting this group to play together looks to be an early season challenge. Despite this obstacle, Stockard sees a lot of passion from the Eagles.
“This group of girls is very competitive and they are fighting for positions,” Stockard said. “They have worked very hard this first week of practice. They have shown they want to compete.”
Other players to watch for include setters Nicole Evans and Sierra Hoehn. In the middle of the formation look for Rylee Schultze and Hannah Holland as effective forces.
The Eagles began their season at home on Monday against Olathe North and Heritage Christian Academy, and hosted Sherwood Cass on Tuesday.
Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2012/aug/21/maranatha-christian-academy-fall-2012-preview-youn/