Marietta cross country ‘expects the unexpected’

Marietta High’s cross country teams have the potential to turn some heads on the 5k race course this fall.

Potential of course is the operative word.

“My favorite expression about what looks good on paper…we don’t run cross (country) on paper, we run on dirt,” said MHS head coach Dale Leeper, who will be in his 17th fall with the Marietta High and Marietta Middle School programs.

“Expect the unexpected.”

A year ago, Leeper knew at the beginning of the campaign that he had a couple of youthful harrier squads toeing the starting lines at meets. The girls had one senior (crew standout Hailey Carman) while the boys had zero seniors.

In prep cross country, underclassmen are often times the swiftest in the pack. But not for Marietta last season.

At October’s East Central Ohio League (ECOL) meet in Cambridge, the Lady Tigers finished fourth in a field of four, while the orange and black gentlemen were fifth out of seven.

Of the seven girls’ scorers at the 2013 league event, six have returned. On the boys side, only four ECOL scorers are back.

Overall for this upcoming season, the MHS XC numbers look good with 27 boys and 16 girls. Practice started in earnest Aug. 1.

“We just returned from a four-day/three-night high school camp – just us – at Cedar Lakes,” Leeper said. “Very positive teambuilding experience. This is the fourth year we’ve done this, and it’s gotten better each year.”

Leeper said his teams were preparing “for a fun run at Malone” Aug. 16.

“This will be a way to kick off the season with five-runner teams in imaginative garb with each runner doing a two-mile leg,” the coach said.

The MHS boys are expected to be paced by senior Jake Haught, an Ohio Division I district honoree.

Last year, he nearly cracked the top 10 with an 11th-place finish in the ECOL race. His clocking was 17 minutes, 44.55 seconds.

Leeper said some other runners to keep an eye on will be seniors’ Kody Phillips Connor Brack, and junior Jeff Davis.

Senior Cameron Barnhouse scored at the 2013 league event and is also back.

“Newcomers’ Will (Bickam) and Scott (Morris) should contribute as juniors,” Leeper said. “Any two or three of our sophomores could easily step up.

“We have a large group of freshman boys. Several of them made some noise last year in middle school, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see two or three – or even four – of them pushing upperclassmen, hard.”

On the ladies’ side, there are a group of seniors, featuring Olivia Wesel, Emma Martin and Brittany Deskins.

Then, there’s sophomore Kelsey Hall, who ran 22:04.19 in the ECOL meet, tops for the MHS girls. At the end of the season, she was honored as an all-district selection.

There are two juniors on the roster – Josie Miracle and Jenell Betts – and both should contribute, Leeper said.

“The bulk of the load will be carried by a very deep and talented group of sophomores,” the coach continued. “We expect significant contributions from that group.”

Marietta High is scheduled to host and open its season at the 15th annual Elizabeth S. Broughton Memorial Invitational at the Broughton Nature & Wildlife Area Saturday, Aug. 23, at 10 a.m.

“As of now, we’re expecting 12-15 teams, 400-500 runners total, from Ohio and West Virginia,” Leeper said.