Mike Martin has been around the sport of cross country for decades, so he knows squads can ebb and flow due to graduation losses.
According to Martin, the 2019 version of his Knights will be a little thin in numbers, but not necessarily in talent.
"In the past two years, we’ve graduated a ton of seniors, so we’re a little thin on the girls side," Martin said. "We’re only returning three letterwinners, so we have to find some good young runners.
"On the guys side, it will be interesting," he added. "This year, 18 of the 28 guys we have are freshmen or sophomores. I think we’re going to be a bit better. We don’t have a ton of kids, but the ones who are here are dedicated to running."
Martin acknowledges the Suburban League National Conference likely is one of the toughest in the state for cross country. In 2018, Nordonia’s girls finished seventh at the National Conference Championship meet, while the Knights boys finished fourth.
"We’re definitely a bit higher on the guys side this year," Martin said. "I think [defending state champion] Hudson is probably the favorite on the guys side again. Wadsworth and Twinsburg are always tough."
Martin will have former Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy coach Tina Case and former Trinity standout Sean Sandvick as assistant coaches.
While the Nordonia boys lost varsity runners Matt Korodi, Tyler Mosher and Nick Orzechowski to gradation, the bulk of the Knights are back and they will be push by a solid incoming freshman class.
"I think will be much better by the end of the year than we are now," Martin said. "I could see a couple of freshmen running varsity by the end of the year."
The most proven commodity for Nordonia this fall will be senior state qualifier Jayden Wimbush. Wimbush earned his first trip the Division I state meet last fall, where he finished 65th in a time of 17:00.6.
Martin said he wants his No. 1 runner to have even loftier goals this season.
"I would like to think he’s going to challenge for the Suburban League [individual] championship," Martin said. "We’ve talked all year that his goal should be All-Ohio last year."
All-Ohio honors are given to the top 25 finishers at the state meet.
Behind Wimbush, Martin said there is not much to separate runners No. 2 to 6 in Nordonia’s pecking order.
Seniors Jeff Sajovie and Andrew McCabe are returning varsity runners, along with with juniors Nathan Lahrmer and Evan White. Sophomore Alex Bye also will be in mix, according to Martin.
"That mix will be really interesting to see who steps forward," Martin said. "I think it will be pretty fluid until somebody takes that spot. I would think the guys with experience will have the edge.
Pushing from the back, however, is Nordonia’s freshman class. Martin said he believes freshmen Chris Turner, Sean Decker and Nathan Gerhart all have the potential to run varsity by year’s end.
"I’m really excited about this freshman class and where we could be in four years," Martin said. "It’s always a transition from middle school to high school, but those guys are all capable of a lot."
On the girls side, Nordonia has only two returning seniors in captains Nicole Gerhart and Teagan Sanda. However, the Knights do have a wild card in Carlotta Turci, a foreign exchange student from Italy whom Martin called "an elite cyclist."
The good news for Nordonia is No. 1 runner junior Autumn Westbrooks is back. This year, Westbrooks will focus on cross country after splitting time between running and soccer the last year.
"The last two years at the end of the year, she’s been worn out because she’s been doing two sports," Martin said. "She’s got that skill set. She had a nice summer of training."
Martin said sophomore Suzy Kress is pushing for the No. 2 spot after a solid freshman year, while junior Grace Heiser also has looked strong.
Junior returning letterwinner Mikalya Bell and sophomore Grace Sajovie are also looking for scoring spots.
Among what Martin called an interesting freshman class, Megan Picoult could make an immediate impact for the Knights.
Given all the youth, Martin said he doesn’t want to put pressure on his girls squad.
"I just want to see improvement each week and a quality work ethic," Martin said.
Nordonia will open its season Aug. 24 at the Achilles/Solon "Run, Comet, Run" Invitational at the Cleveland MetroParks Polo Fields in Moreland Hills. Varsity girls race is at 9 a.m. with boys varsity race at 9:45 a.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO