Washington’s first race tomorrow

Bryan Veginski

Washington’s cross country teams likely will make considerable progress by the end of the year.

Both are seeking to improve upon their 2007 Mid-Illini Conference rankings.

The Panthers open their season tomorrow when they welcome Eureka and Peoria Heights to Washington Park.

The squads then travel to Canton Saturday morning for their first invitational of the fall.

Boys cross country

Washington will attempt to offset considerable personnel losses.

The eligibility of last year’s top runner expired, while two expected top-three athletes are not in the fold.

Two-time second team all-league recipient Robert Deatherage (’05, ’06) graduated, Kevin Diverde moved to Aurora and Ben Misselhorn recently had his appendix removed.

But others have taken charge for the Panthers.

“The kids are working hard,” WCHS boys coach Tom Smith said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what we can do.”

Senior Jacob Kupferschmid has emerged into a leading role, and classmate Jonathan Vallosio has climbed from the No. 7 position as a junior to third this year.

Andrew McGraw, a junior, has reached 150 days of continuous running.

Senior Bret Holmes and Matt Slater, a junior, are making cases for themselves.

Another potential top-seven qualifier is sophomore Nick Dalfonso.

There are 24 boys out for the team this season, many of which are newcomers.

Smith expects Metamora to continue its M-I dominance after the Redbirds return the bulk of their squad after their latest championship.

Washington is aiming to stay with the rest of the teams in the league.

“I hope around the conference we will be somewhat competitive,” said Smith.

The Panthers were eighth in the conference a year ago with 210 points.

Washington will be stronger in dual meets than invitationals, Smith said.

Most of the boys will be able to stay in a pack, but there generally will not be anyone toward the front.

With five extra practice days in the official Illinois High School Association schedule, the gap has been longer before the first meet.

“They’re itching to race people,” said Smith of the team members.

Girls cross country

Washington has a smaller group in ’08, but girls coach Troy Walcott likes who he has in place.

Sophomore Carolyn Riedel and juniors Rachel St. Clair and Amy Learned all are back in the top seven.

Senior Melissa Biggs has gotten faster, and newcomers Alyssa Johnson, a freshman, and Allison Fussner, a sophomore, also figure to be Lady Panther running leaders.

Johnson comes from St. Mark’s in Peoria, where she had success at the junior-high level.

Senior Heather Cotner, if she can shake a hip injury, also will make the team’s prospects better.

“As a team, we should be better than we were last year,” Walcott said.

Among the losses from last season were Carrie Bunting, Katie Petravick and Natalie Miller.

Bunting was a second-team all-conference runner three consecutive years (’04 to ’06) and now is running at Illinois Central College.

“We have smaller girls numbers, but they are hard workers and should do well,” said Walcott.

East Peoria is the prohibitive M-I favorite after claiming its third straight title last year.

Metamora, which has stolen a couple crowns from the Raiders in the last decade, is a solid pick to wind up second.

After that, Walcott said, there are a lot of possibilities as to what order the teams will fall in the Oct. 17 finale.

The Lady Panthers collected an eighth-place standing in ’07 with 179 points.

Washington is looking for a supportive crowd for the opening meet to get its year started in a big way.