NEW PARIS — Having missed winning the Cross County Conference crown in 2015, the National Trail Blazers cross-country team looks to regain the championship in 2016 with a solid team.
Coach James Byrd is in charge for his eighth season at NT. He, along with Christine Byrd, have built up a solid program from the elementary on up to the varsity level. The Blazers won the CCC title in 2013 and 2014 in boys competition, but failed a “three-peat” accomplishment last season.
“We were pretty good last year,” said coach Byrd. “The girls came in fourth in the tournament, while the boys came in third. That performance is a little bit down from the previous years. We won the conference so we look to rebound from last year.”
The numbers this season are down for the girls, as only three runners fill the ladies’ roster. But, what the ladies lack in numbers, they look to overcome with quality.
The numbers are up for the boys compared to last year; 12 runners are going into the 2016 season.
“With the numbers, we look to build on that strength for the boys,” said Byrd. “But the girls lost a number of seniors.”
Hannah Wellman was the top performer last season for the girls, while Mickey Utley was the top runner in 2015 for the boys. Both had a lot of leadership qualities and their abilities will be missed.
For the Lady Blazers, Casey Thompson is in her second year on the team. JaLynn bird is a junior, and Evan Byrd returns as last year’s lead runner.
“I have a stong senior class for the boys,” said Byrd. “These boys have known success for the past three years, even longer since elementary and middle school, so they know what to do and what is expected of them.”
Leading the team are seniors Payton Harrison, Weston Haus, Lane Unger, Josh Cook, and Austin Green.
An experienced sophomore class returns to help challenge for the conference title.
“Travis Hunt, Josh Bishop, and Adam Eyler are very good, so they should help contribute as well,” Coach Byrd said of the second year players. “Jesse Biser is a first year runner as a sophomore.” Rounding out the rest of the team are sophomores Jack Weaver, Ian Miller, Jesse Biser, and Nick Wellman.
The first regular season scheduled event for the Blazers is on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Northwestern High School for the Warrior Classic in Springfield.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH