For new Cuyahoga Falls boys cross country coach Chris Wilcoxson, things have come a bit full circle.
Wilcoxson notes he remembers his senior year at Falls in 1989 — which was the first year for Bob Koch as head coach. When Koch retired from coaching this summer, Wilcoxson decided to step up after previously working with the Falls youth running program.
"Bob left and I heard we needed someone to step up," Wilcoxson said. "Five of the six seniors this year were in my youth program. [Koch is] a staple. He did a very nice job. I wish we could have squeezed one more year out of him."
A salesman at Extreme Designs in Cuyahoga Falls, Wilcoxson said he is leaning on veteran girls cross country coach Dan Scourfield as he enters his first head coaching job at the high school level. Scourfield enters his 14th year in charge on the girls program.
Both coaches note the competition level in the Suburban League National Conference will likely be as tough as ever. Both Black Tiger teams finished eighth.
"It’s unbelievable what these kids do locally," Wilcoxson said. "Last year, it was a bit of a down year for us in terms of numbers. We’ve got 14 guys on the team. We’re a few guys up from last year and have four freshmen."
Falls’ boys return all members of its postseason squad from last year. Wilcoxson notes health will be a big issue for the Black Tigers this fall, as Falls was without its top runners for long stretches last season.
Health issues has hobbled Falls’ No 1 runner — and the coach’s son — senior Jack Wilcoxson each of the last two seasons. However, the coach believes his son could be ready to break out.
"Jack is doing well. He’s working hard," coach Wilcoxon said. "He had a great track season, so that’s a good springboard for him. His ultimate goal is to end up at states. He has an All-Ohio goal, but you’ve got to be healthy to get down there."
With the younger Wilcoxson sidelined for the 2018 postseason, senior Anthony Nicholls became Falls’ top runner. Coach Wilcoxson said Nicholls also has his eyes fixed on reaching states.
"He’s running harder and better than he has the last two seasons," Wilcoxson said. "There’s no secret that they want to get down there [to states] together."
Wilcoxson notes that sophomore Koby Dunford is "applying as much pressure as he can to the seniors," while senior Tony Sondles looks to build off a good track season.
In only his second year of cross country, senior Logan Urich has "really come along," according to Wilcoxson, and could hold down the No. 5 spot.
Also in the running for varsity spots are Lukas Keverkamp — the lone junior on the team — seniors Sterling Hanselman and Zach Langbein and sophomores Sean Langbein and Stanley Shuck.
Falls’ freshman class includes Corbin Luksza, Owynn Hudak, Lucas Ulbrecht and Caleb Pickering.
On the girls team, Scourfield has a bit of a unique squad.
"I’ve got a lot of seniors," Scourfield said. "My goal every year going in is to advance as many girls as possible as far as they can. I think the ability is there, especially in our experienced runners, to make a a push for states.
"Our greatest issue is inexperience," he added. "I have 19 girls on the team, only them seven have run a varsity race."
Through graduation and other issues, Falls lost 10 girls from last year’s team. That group includes varsity postseason runners Melody Lewis, Valerie Deighton and Kristina Barnett to graduation..
Like the boys squad, Falls has its top runner back, as senior Meredith Gallagher returns.
"She had a phenomenal season and she had trained very well," Scourfield said. "She’s looking to go into the 19s this falls."
Falls got a big boost when senior Aiamyia Dudley decided to run cross country this fall. While Dudley has not run cross country before, she broke the school record in the 800-meter run and finished ninth in Division I in the 800 this spring.
"The big thing is Meredith now has someone to train with," Scourfield ssid. "They are two very different runners. Aiamyia is all speed and Meredith can run all day.
Multi-sport senior Chelsea Huffman will slide into the No. 3 spot for Falls, while senior Nadia Luksza is expected to move up in the pack. Sophomore Elsa Lowry returns to the varsity squad, along with junior Kara Herman and senior Kearan Barnett.
Senior Zoe King also should contribute later this fall, but is recovering from lower leg injuries, according to Scourfield.
Scourfield referred to senior Leila Wargowsky as "the heart of the team." New sophomores this season include Kendall Walker, Laila Smith, Zoe Kubick, Becca Johnson and Belle Coffman.
The freshman class includes Teagan Barnett, Edee Gerstenslager, Kayleigh Palmer and Hayley Miller.
Along with its annual two-mile dual meet Tuesday at Bolich Middle School, Falls was set to open the season at the Seneca East Tiger Classic in Attica Saturday.
Falls’ girls will run at the Frank Gilbas Invitational at Kenston Aug. 31.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO