The Union Grove High School boys cross country team took a big step last season, winning its first Southern Lakes Conference Relays since 1992.
The Broncos have a chance to make an even bigger statement this fall.
Behind senior Kevin Hall and junior Hunter Reich, both of whom earned first-team All-Racine County honors last season, the Broncos’ front-line talent could be as impressive as any team in the Racine County.
Hall, who did not compete in cross country until his sophomore season, placed 157th at the WIAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships last season. As for Reich, Union Grove coach Mike Mikula suggested he could be starting, “a great running career,” after he placed 14th in a challenging sectional last season.
Other returning first-team runners are Waterford senior Dan Pankowski and Catholic Central senior Sam Henderson.
Meanwhile, Matt De Witt will try to make an impact at Case, which graduated All-Racine County Athlete of the Year Milo Altimirano. And Matt Nie becomes coach at Burlington after previously serving as co-head coach.
Here are previews of the 10 Racine County teams:
Southeast Conference Case Eagles
HEAD COACH: Matt De Witt, first season
LAST YEAR: Fifth at SEC, 10th at WIAA Division 1 Kenosha Bradford Sectional
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior — Aaron Peterson. Juniors — Jake Becker, Joe Ekes.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With the graduation of three of the top-five runners last year, including All-Racine County Athlete of the Year, Milo Altimirano, the Eagles are looking for new runners to emerge. The top returnee is senior Aaron Peterson, who was honorable mention All-County last season, to help lead a large group of juniors. De Witt expects to improve on last year’s finishes at the conference and sectional meets.
HEAD COACH: Josh Slamka, 13th season
LAST YEAR: Seventh at SEC, 11th at WIAA Division 1 Kenosha Bradford Sectional
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Seniors — Connor Vertz, Steven Cannalte.
OUTLOOK: Vertz and Cannalte are looking for a strong senior season, while the bulk of the team, which is made up of mostly sophomores, will be building a strong base for the next couple years, Slamka said.
COACH: Glenn Schultz, 30th year
LAST YEAR: Eighth at SLC, 12th at WIAA Division 1 Kenosha Bradford Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior — Joseph Jutley. Juniors — Cullen Krogh, Jordan Phillips. Sophomore — Carter Sura.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Schultz feels Phillips and Jutley will give the Panthers a strong top two and could develop into state qualifiers. Help is on the way with freshmen Joshua Brendel and Jordan Fuchs.
“We’re hoping to move back into the upper half of the conference and sectional,” Schultz said.
Metro Classic Conference Catholic Central Hilltoppers
COACH: Rick Koceja, third season.
LAST SEASON: The Hilltoppers had an incomplete team.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Seniors — Sam Henderson, Conall Lynch, Paul Nevin. Sophomores: Evander Craig
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Henderson returns as an All-Conference runner. He was fifth at the MCC and seventh at sectionals. Koceja expects help from newcomers Matthias Murphy and Henry Hein.
“The goal is to show weekly improvement and have a complete team score at meets,” Koceja said.
Racine Lutheran Crusaders
HEAD COACH: Paul Tuskowski, third season
LAST YEAR: Sixth at MCC, 15th at WIAA Division 3 Lake Country Lutheran Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Juniors — Luke Schmierer, Joseph Schmierer, Nathan Janke, Alex Flones.
OUTLOOK: Tuskowski said the Crusaders will build on last year’s success and he hopes to improve with the addition of several new athletes. Big things are expected from junior captain Luke Schmierer.
“I have seen seen strong improvements in practice and competition across the team already this season,” Tuskowski said.
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COACH: Jim Larsen, 20th season
LAST YEAR: Third at the MCC, ninth at the WIAA Division 3 Wisconsin Lutheran Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior — Peter Vanko. Junior — Stephe’n Mcgravey-Tate. Sophomores — Wyatt Knoell, Jack Lopez, JP Jorgenson.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Vincent Guardiola and Steve Savas, the Hawks’ top two finishers at the sectional tournament last season, have graduated. But Vanko will be back to lead a young group that has promise.
“We have all of our returning sophomores running again this year and they are wanting to build on last year’s season,” Prairie assistant coach Kathleen Rooney said.
Two young runners who are expected to contribute are freshman Nolan Boerner and sophomore Jayce Jaramillo.
“We are looking for them to progress throughout the season,” Rooney said.
St. Catherine’s Angels
COACH: Tom Scheller, 46th year
LAST YEAR: Tied for eighth in MCC, tied for 14th in WIAA Division 2 Whitewater Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Sophomores —Calaway Alderson, Angel Aranda, Jameson Chernouski.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With no seniors or juniors, Scheller said the goal is simply to be competitive this season.
“We have six boys running at this point, so we have the potential to have a complete team in meets this season,” Scheller said. “Angel Aranda was our lead runner last year and looks like he will be again.
Southern Lakes Conference Burlington Demons
COACH: Matt Nie, first year, third year. Co-head coach Nick Brooks left to join the Racine County Police Department.
LAST YEAR: Seventh at SLC, 10th at WIAA Division Division 1 Mukwonago Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior Ben Ewald, Joel Fisher, Kodi Kruger. Sophomore — Tanner Sylvester.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: State qualifier Kyle Derosier, who finished 87th at state in 16:57, leaves a big hole. Kruger and Fisher will combine to pick up the slack. Pie also believes sophomore Tanner Sylvester can make a big contribution.
“We look forward to a solid group of varsity runners who can run a sub-19 minute 5K,” Pie said.
Union Grove Broncos
COACH: Mike Mikula, 25th year
LAST YEAR: Second at SLC and fifth at WIAA Division 1 Whitewater Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior Kevin Hall, Tommy Bretl, Juniors — Hunter Reich, Marcus Johnson, Luke Bowers, Nathan McMahon
OUTLOOK: Hall, who was ninth at the Whitewater Sectional, ran a best time of 16:35.23 and Reich, who was 14th, had a best time of 16:59.24. Other established runners are Bretl (17:32.3) and Johnson (17:52.9).
“We have a good returning team,” Mikula said. “The team has some good goals for this season. With that being said, we have our work cut out for us.”
COACH: Nate Schreiber, 19th year.
LAST YEAR: Fourth at SLC, eighth at WIAA Division 1 Mukwonago Sectional.
RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Senior Ryan Kirn. Juniors — Connor Zach, Henry Grzegorczyk, Connor Warnke, Logan Muffick and Sam Zuelke.
OUTLOOK: Between graduation and season-ending injuries, Waterford has lost three of its top runners from last season.
“Yet we still have a solid nucleus of upperclassman that will help lead this year’s team,” Schreiber said. “Similar to last year, our goal is to place in the top three at conference. Our other, equally important goal, is to continue to develop and improve throughout the season.”
Depth will come from freshmen Andrew Jonietz and Aiden Brink.