Change is coming this season to Stow-Munroe Falls cross country squads.
With longtime coach John Roseman moving on to coach at Baldwin Wallace University, Stow chose to elevate longtime assistant Aaron Morris to head girls coach.
Morris, who also serves as Stow head girls track coach, will enter his second stint at head coach, having led both Bulldog teams in 2012 and 2013. He is in his 18th season with the program.
Stow also hired JK LeSeure to be head coach of the boys’ team, giving Stow two head cross country coaches for the first time in decades.
LeSeure is a substitute teacher at Stow and served as an assistant coach with the track team this spring. The father of Stow junior Cooper LeSeure, JK LeSeure noted he spent 10 years coaching youth cross county in Cuyahoga Falls.
"When John was leaving, the opportunity opened up for me," LeSeure said. "The opportunity is here to be with Cooper as he’s running."
LeSeure inherits a boys team which finished fifth in the Suburban League National Conference last season and missed making regionals.The good news is Stow returns its entire varsity squad from a season ago, led by seniors Cole Shawala and Jason Anzaldi. Stow will have 32 boys in the program this fall.
"It’s a good way to start," LeSeure said. "I think there’s opportunity to be more successful that we have in the past."
"That core group of guys coming back from last year has been very focused this summer," he added. "They’ve got some big goals. They want to get to regionals. We have stretch goal of making it to states this season."
LeSeure knows that getting through the Suburban League National Conference will be a test, particularly with defending Division I state champion Hudson in the mix.
"It’s not easier this year, LeSeure said. "Hudson is definitely a step ahead of everybody else. The difference between second and sixth is pretty minimal. It’s going to come down to our fourth and fifth runners."
LeSeure said top three runners are relatively set, with Shawala back at No. 1, Anazaldi at No. 2 and senior Patrick Bunnell holding the No. 3 spot.
"Those three have had a very solid summer," LeSeure said. "They’ve got a strong foundation for success this year. It’s going to come down to what goes on behind them."
Coopee LeSeure is in the mix for the No. 4 runners spot, but there is plenty of competition. Others in the running for top spots include junior Matt Duffy — who is dealing with injuries — senior Josh Blasko, first-year senior Matt Mergen and freshman Zach Duffy.
Also in the mix for varsity place will be juniors Alex Virostek and Andy Monroe, who LeSeure said has come a long way.
"That group competing for the five to 10 spot …there’s a lot of them in the mix."
LeSeure said he’s seen good things during the preseason for the Bulldogs, but knows it won’t matter until the regular season starts.
Morris inherits a team that finished second in the National Conference last fall, but has some heavy losses.
Lost to graduation are state qualifier Tessa Pitcovich (now running at Ohio Northern University), Sophia Perez (Baldwin Wallace) and Shelby Gluth (Slippery Rock University). Morris also noted the Shatraw twins moved to New York.
"So, we’re missing five of the seven from that team last year," Morris said. "We’ve had some girls in particular step up. As the team goes, the expectations aren’t as high as they’ve been last few years."
With those losses, Stow girls most proved commodity is senior Mackenzie Cassiday, who Morris hopes to see reach states.
"That is the plan. She is definitely is our No. 1 this year," Morris said. "We are hoping she’ll be in the mid to low 18s. That would be a good goal for her.
"We weren’t really sure how she would respond to being the team leader this year," he added. "She’s kind of a quiet runner and never had to take a leadership role like this. She’s really embraced it."
With 50 girls in the program, Stow won’t lack for numbers, but they do lack experience.
"I think our two through four spots are pretty set," Morris said."After that, it’s a lot of freshmen."
Stow’s No. 2 runner will likely by freshman Kendra Cassiday, who is Mackenzie’s sister.
"She’s a lot like Kenzie was when she was a freshman," Morris said. "She’s pretty quiet, but she went after it at the preseason meet."
Morris said junior Abi Kuhn "made a big leap last spring on the track" and has made similar strides to become Stow’s No. 3 runner.
"She’s already made a huge drop," Morris said. "She answered the bell when we lost our top five."
Sophomore Madison Hedrick will see a bigger role after splitting time between junior varsity and varsity last year, as will sophomore Caitlyn O’Brien.
Behind that group, Morris he has "a truckload of freshmen, but they can run."
Freshmen competing for varsity spots include Bella Baker, Anna Brosch, Andrea Perrotta and Hannah Hartenberg. Senior Bailey Dillow also has made a big move up after running junior varsity last year.
"Making regionals would be a huge deal for this team," Morris said.
Stow will open the season Saturday with a big test at the Suburban League Super Duals at Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton. First race is set for 9 a.m.
The Bulldogs will travel to Walsh Jesuit for the Pat Ritchie Invitational Sept. 8.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC