LSA Boys Ready to Run, Girls to Rebuild

By LSCSN.com

HOUSTON Houston Lutheran South is year in and year out one of the top cross country programs in TAPPS 5A, especially within its district. Head coach Gene Benson has his squads performing at a high level each year with the TAPPS state championship meet is held as well. This year Benson returns four of his top five runners on the Pioneers' squad, while he loses his two best runners for the Lady Pioneers.

"We would like the boys to be one of the two two teams in district and to be in the top three at state," the 17-year head coach said. "The girls should be in the top half of the district teams as well as the top half at the state meet."

Last year the Pioneers finished seventh at the state meet held in Waco and Curtis Justiz, LSA's No. 5 runner in 2006, is the only casualty from that squad as he graduated in 2007.

"If this team can stay injury free they have a chance to be competitive for a top-three finish at the state meet," Benson said. "Last year's team suffered some serious injuries at the end of the year that hampered the athletes. So, hopefully we can stay injury free."

The Pioneer's No. 1 runner, Blake Rothbard, was one of the casualties last season. Rothbard finished seventh at the 2005 state meet, but finished 60th in last year's meet. He did finish fourth at the district meet, which earned him All-District recognition.

“Blake had a very difficult 2006 cross country season,” Benson said. “He was injured and unable to meet the goals he had set. He had a strong track season, placing second in both the 1600- and 3200-meter runs at the state meet.”

The Pioneer head coach said Rothbard should be able to compete for a top-five finish at this year's state meet.

Andrew Cruz is expected to be the Pioneer's No. 2 runner this season. Cruz finished fifth in the district meet last season, earning him All-District honors. His best 5K time last year was 6:18.59.

“Andrew has improved greatly since his freshman year,” Benson said of the incoming junior. “He is a hard worker and we are expecting great things from him this year.”

Kenneth Richardson, the team's lone senior, will hold down the No. 3 spot in '07. He finished ninth at the district meet last season and was an All-District selection. He was the team's second-highest finisher at the 2006 TAPPS state meet, finishing 31st, just one spot behind Justiz.

“Kenneth and Blake will be the leaders of this team this year,” Benson said. “As a senior we are looking to him for that leadership.”

Anthony Spaulding is slated as the No. 4 runner this season, but Benson said he is one of the keys to how much success the Pioneers will experience in 2007.

“Anthony will be a key to this team because of his position,” the coach said. “The closer he can finish to our No. 1 runner the better our chances of meeting our goals will be.”

Spaulding's best 5K time last year was 6:19:49. He finished in the 61st position in last year's state meet.

Junior Scott Pyle should compete for the No. 5 spot this season. He finished 77th last year as a sophomore at the TAPPS state meet. His best 5K time was just a second behind Spaulding in '06. “Many of these athletes had a good summer training and should be ready to improve from last year,” Benson said. “The key to victory at Lutheran South is to have a small gap between runners one through six. The smaller this gap the better our chances for meeting our goals.”

As for the Lady Pioneers Benson said a finish in the top half of both the district and state meets would be good for a team that is looking for an identity this season.

“This will be a total rebuilding year,” he said. “We lost two All-State finishers from last year in Amy Marshall, who finished third (at the TAPPS state meet) and Hallie Spaulding, who finished ninth at the state meet.

“We will have to wait and see who shows up for the practices in the early season.”