If the NCrunners.com preseason rankings are to be believed, it will be another banner year in Southwest Wake Athletic Conference cross country.
NCrunners ranks the Green Hope girls No. 1 in the state, Apex 15th, Panther Creek 19th and Middle Creek 24th. The site also ranks the Green Hope boys fourth, Apex eighth, Panther Creek 20th
Apex Friendship, in its first year, will be coached by former Panther Creek coaches Ryan Matthews and Rusty Jenkins.
Green Hope’s dynasty starts with returning 4A champion Elly Henes, the school’s first individual champ to go along with its six straight 4A titles, but it’s the total senior class that keeps the Falcons on top of the state.
Morgan Adams, Katie Tomasi, Kayla Hall, Sheridan Wood and Marina Savage, all seniors, were among the top 15 SWAC runners last season. Juniors Emily Jordan, Sarah Taylor and Samantha Kolor were each in the top 17.
The Falcons’ top competition for a state title will come from its own county. Cardinal Gibbons is ranked No. 3 by NCrunners and Leesville Road is No. 4.
Panther Creek, last year’s SWAC runner-up, returns senior Bridgette Sullivan, who ended last year on a tear. Sullivan was fourth in the SWAC and 19th in the state at the 4A meet. The Catamounts were sixth in the state thanks in part to returnees like sophomore Sierra Foster, junior Amy Greengrass, sophomore Lydia Connor and senior Rachel Hill.
Apex has great depth. At last year’s conference meet, the Cougars placed six runners from 14-25 place. Of those six, senior Allison Rosen, sophomore Jenna Stevens, senior Cara Gaudioso, senior Elie Rivera and junior Cassidy Devenouges return.
Cary, an NCrunners honorable mention, will be led by senior Sarah Venable. Senior Liesl Schleusener, junior Sophia Uthe and sophomore Elizabeth Dunphy also return.
Fifth-place Middle Creek brings back all of its top runners including sophomore Lauren Copperthwaite, junior Elle Holliday, senior Laura Perron and juniors Katie Loughlin, Maggie Loughlin, Allison Swagert and Jillian Carter.
Sixth-place Holly Springs (junior Katie Kent), and eighth-place Athens Drive (sophomore Shayna McKinnon) each return their top runners from a year ago.
Seventh-place Fuquay-Varina brings back its No. 2 runner in sophomore Grace Knapp.
Just as last year, when the SWAC title was decided by 11 points, this year’s boys cross country race should be close between Apex and Green Hope.
Apex senior Derek Duin (third in the SWAC), junior Ben Savino (fifth), senior Lawson Benfield (10th) and sophomore David Cart (20th) lead the way for the Cougars.
Green Hope brings back its entire top five from a year ago: SWAC runner-up Henry Pehr, senior Michael Kolor, junior Nick Veilleux, senior Michael Dudash and senior Brian Huitt.
Panther Creek, third-place last year, lost four of its top seven but returns a solid core with junior Kyle Fawzi, senior Alec Carlson and junior Drake Schwehm.
Cary has a strong top three in seniors Matt Thornton and Andrew Ray and junior James Lundergan.
Middle Creek was fifth in last year’s SWAC but returns a conference champion hopeful in senior Jack Cawley (fourth in SWAC). Holly Springs, sixth place last year, brings back its top two runners in senior Evan James and junior Gavin Kinkead.
Seventh-place Fuquay-Varina lost its top two runners but returns senior Spencer Koenig. Athens Drive brings back its top runner, senior Kevin Page.
Last 10 boys SWAC champs
2013, 2014: Apex
2011: Panther Creek
2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010: Green Hope
Last 10 girls SWAC champs
2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014: Green Hope
2005, 2006: Green Hope
Boys, team: Green Hope (2010)
Boys, individual: Fuquay-Varina’s Jesse Norman (1996-97), Cary’s Bakri Abushouk (2012)
Girls, team: Cary (1997), Fuquay-Varina (1996), Green Hope (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Girls, individual: Athens Drive’s Callan Fike (2005), Green Hope’s Elly Henes (2014)