Despite key losses, the boys and girls teams dont expect to take a step back

by: VERN UYETAKE - Lakeridge sophomore Leo Lukens is part of a very strong class that will lead the Pacers this season. Not many cross-country teams can lose their top runner on both the boys and girls side and barely miss a beat. But that's what Lakeridge is looking to do this year, which speaks to the depth of its program.

The Pacers graduated Julian Heninger and Kelly O'Neill, two runners who were mainstays at the state meet.

The Lakeridge boys lose four of their top seven runners from last year but return three sophomore with varsity experience and an exceptionally young squad could be in the running for a state berth again.

“We've pushing the team pretty hard right now and will then rest them up down the stretch,” coach Ken James said.

The Pacers boast a very strong sophomore class with Leo Lukens, Noah Belcik and Justin Miller leading the charge.

“We're really young but we're definitely pushing toward the end of the season and hoping we can bring the guys along,” James said.

That trio has been consistent for the Pacers this year and sophomores Reed Mederos and Daniel Ragsdale will also make an impact this season.

Junior Tim Jordan has also made a huge leap from last season, consistently placing in the top five for the Pacers while senior captains Corrado Pitari, Cameron Clarke and Maximo Minervini provide the team with leadership.

A pair of talented freshmen will also play a big role this season in Alex Harbert and Gabe Smith-Nilsen.

Lakeridge recently scored an impressive second-place finish at the Ultimook Invitational and was third at Tuesday's crossover meet.

While the Pacers feature top-10 talent in the state, it could be an uphill climb just to qualify for the meet. The Three Rivers League is extremely strong and cracking the top-two at districts will be an impressive feat.

“Our league is just brutal. Realistically, we could be one of the 10 best teams in the state and not even get to go,” James said.

The girls team will be very strong as well and is one of the deepest teams in the league.

Lia Newman and Laura Manning, both seniors, have stepped up as the team's front-runners.

“It's been back and forth between them. They're similar in ability and they push each other,” James said.

Lakeridge has a strong pack behind that pair. Elli Newman and Dorothy Wang have filled in at the Nos. 3 and 4 spots for Lakeridge and senior Andi Bisbjerg should also play a key role on the team.

The varsity line-up could vary throughout the season as there is little separation among those lower on the ladder.

The key will be if the pack can narrow the gap between itself and Newman and Manning.

“We won't have that person out front where we're just scrambling to catch this year,” James said. The girls team recently won the Ultimook Invitational and was second at the crossover meet.

Grant is the prohibitive favorite in the league again as the defending state champions but Lakeridge hopes to slip into that No. 2 position to earn a trip to state.

The Pacers will also be hosting a home meet this season at Sandelie Golf Course on Oct. 11, featuring 26 teams.

“We're really excited about it. The goal is to turn it into an annual event,” James said.

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