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Trojans boast depth despite loss of top boys, girls runners, seek fifth straight girls district title

PMG PHOTOS: PHIL HAWKINS - With experienced returning runners like (from left), Whitney Lopez, Cassie Traeger and Makayla Schaecher, the Kennedy girls cross country team is threat to repeat as district champions for a fifth straight year.Heading into the 2019 fall season, the Kennedy girls cross country team has two impressive streaks that the team is eager to keep going.

Dating back to 2012, the Trojans have fielded seven consecutive individual district champions on the girls side of the race track. A direct function of that success, the Kennedy girls have also been crowned district champions for four years running from 2015-18.

All that success attracts a lot of attention within the high school, and the Trojans are seeing the fruits of that labor ripen this season in the form of increased interest among eligible student athletes.

"We probably have one of the bigger girls turnouts in cross country for 2A in the state," head coach Steve Ritchie said.

The Trojans have 24 athletes signed up to participate in the coming fall season — nine boys and 15 girls. And while that number may drop a bit before the season begins, it's still a good indication of the health of the program.

"We have a lot of kids that are not freshmen that are coming out for their first year in cross country. We have four or five new girls that are sophomores through seniors that are out for cross country," Ritchie said. "It makes us feel good that we're doing something right. That's a good feeling as a coach."

Noticeably absent this year is defending 3A/2A/1A State Champion Alejandra Lopez, who brought the Trojans their first individual state title since Deanna Shiedler in 1981 and 1982.

With Lopez now running at Southern Oregon University, it leaves Kennedy without a defending district champion for the first time in more than half a decade.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Freshman Raul Vasquez will help bolster the Kennedy boys cross country team, which is seeking a return to the state championships after placing sixth overall in 2018."We might have to do it more with depth and team running this year," Ritchie said.

Following in Lopez's footsteps is incoming sophomore Aleksandra Eyles, who placed 10th at district last year and 43rd at the state meet.

"She was our No. 2 runner last year," Ritchie said. "I think she'll have a good year."

The Trojans are also set to bring back No. 3 runner Cassie Traeger for her junior year, along with seniors Whitney Lopez and Mikayla Schaecher, giving the team a strong core to build with heading into 2019.

Kennedy will have its work cut out if the team hopes to bring in a fifth straight district title. Even with Lopez winning the district race last year, the Trojans only beat out runner up Neah-Kah-Nie by three points, and the Pirates are set to return every athlete.

"We know Neah-Kah-Nie is going to be good," Ritchie said.

On the boys side, the Trojans lost its top runner in Luke Hall — a three-time state qualifier who enters his senior season looking to use the fall season as a springboard to prepare for the coming basketball season.

PMG PHOTOS: PHIL HAWKINS - The Trojans have more than a dozen girls signed up to participate in the coming fall season, giving Kennedy one of the biggest girls teams in the state at the 2A level."At this point he's focused on basketball and trying to get recruited, doing everything he can to improve and get better so he can play in college," Ritchie said. "It's a blow to the team in a sense, but we still have a lot of good runners coming back from last year."

Fellow senior Nick Riedman returns, and junior Gianni Velazquez will challenge Riedman for the top spot on the team after a successful debut season last year. With fellow juniors Jose Salazar and Michael Savage, along with sophomore Korbin Wedding and a handful of incoming freshmen, the Kennedy boys are looking to make another run at the state meet after placing sixth last year.

"We've added a couple people, so hopefully the boys can have a successful year and qualify for state," Ritchie said.

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