NL adapts to losing 6 college-bound seniors
By RYAN HERMAN
North Lincoln sent six cross country stars off to college, and now the Knights must find a way to replace them.
The perennial cross country powerhouse had four sign Division I national letters of intent, one Division II and another sign with a NAIA school after its boys finished third in the NCHSAA state 3A championships and its girls seventh last fall.
Now, the Knights are looking for runners to step up and fill the voids left behind by graduated seniors Ali Castro (Georgia), Caitlin Potter (South Carolina), Ryan Shannon (Appalachian State), Andrew Fea (Wake Forest), Lee Johnson (Mars Hill) and Tyler Covington (Montreat).
“It’s definitely a heavy hit. You can only run seven at the state meet, and we lost four of our top seven (boys),” Knights coach Jerry Castro said.
“Overnight we became a young team.”
Led by Fea and Shannon, North Lincoln’s boys won their fifth straight conference title in 2013 and finished third in the state meet in Kernersville. But both are gone, so it’s up to the boys’ lone senior, Zach Wesson, to step up.
And step up Wesson has. He ran a 4-minute, 28-second mile during track season in the spring.
“He’s our number one returning guy this year. He had a solid cross country season (in 2013), but really moved to the next level in the winter and spring,” Castro said.
While Wesson is the Knights’ lone senior in the top seven male runners, their female runners have zero.
That’s right, zero.
The losses of Ali Castro –– Jerry Castro’s daughter –– and Potter were big hits, as both were state-ranked runners.
“The girls’ season is going to be tough,” Castro said. “The girls are so much younger. We don’t have a senior in the top seven.”
Castro said his top three female runners are juniors, and the top five include another junior and a sophomore.
Madeline Sides, Madison Lynch and Jordyn Connell will lead the females, who finished second in the conference and seventh in the state race last fall.
Although his girls team is young, Castro isn’t counting them out for 2014.
“They’re going to have a tough time this year, I think. But, they came so far last year, and if they can do it again, they’re going to surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I think a lot of people are counting them out totally.”
But competition beware in 2015.
“I think this year could be good, but I think next year could be even better,” Castro said.
As far as goals are concerned, Castro, in his fifth season at the program’s helm, isn’t lowering his standards. He’s still gunning for conference championships in both the boys and girls races, and expects to qualify for the state championships with a top-four finish in the regionals, no matter how young his teams are.
“It’s just what we work for –– to try and keep what we’re doing going,” he said.
Castro said he held a time trial on the first day of practice Monday, and was pleased with what he saw.
Perhaps this season won’t be able filling voids, but about the current group of runners making a name for themselves.
“They definitely worked hard this summer. I was definitely happy,” Castro said. “It’s going to come down to, if these young guys can keep improving.
“They’ve all done their work this summer.”