Despite returning five All-Apollo runners, Neal Garrison will not commit to being number one.
The Bulldogs won the Apollo by 34 points last year and are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions with what is returning. Kyle Nofziger figures to be the leading contender to win the race with Taylorville’s Chris Cherry graduated. Nofziger was the runner-up last season. Joining him are Joseph Schelle (3rd), Taylor Fan (5th), Jonah Singer (7th), and Hayden Groteluschen (9th).
“Our boys’ team didn’t lose too many runners,” says Garrison. “We hope to place in the top 2-3 in the conference. The conference has many strong teams coached by some wise coaches. We have the greatest respect for our competition and know none of them can be overlooked and taken for granted. I think Taylorville is the team to beat. Although I could see Mt. Zion, Mattoon, and Charleston surprised a lot of teams.”
Mahomet-Seymour will likely also feature freshmen from a junior high program that won its sectional last season. Also winning a junior high sectional was Mount Zion and should boast a strong freshman class.
Returning for the Braves is sophomore Julian Barker, who finished eighth and All-Apollo. The team finished sixth in the conference standings but returned all of their top runners. As for Taylorville, losing the individual championship to Cherry was a major hit, but the team returns their second, third, and fourth top runners.
Look out for Lincoln, who is looking to compete for a top-3 spot. Lincoln finished third last year but lost just one senior. Returning is junior Brendan Heitzig, who finished sixth overall. Garrett Slack was just four seconds off from making All-Apollo.
“Jalen Franz graduated last year, so we will miss his leadership and positive attitude,” said Lincoln head coach Andrew Hite. “ We are returning several great runners, including Brenden Heitzig, Garret Slack, and Drake Rutledge. We had a lot of success with these three leading the charge. We will be competitive, for sure., but there are too many good teams in the Apollo to pick one.”
Taking a hit will be the Mattoon Green Wave, who finished second last year in the conference. Four of the top seven runners are gone, including All-Apollo runner Trent Hettinger, who returned to play soccer in the fall. Also heading back to soccer are Quincy Hamilton, Brock Goonan and several others.
Returning for a big senior season is senior Brock Davee, who finished fourth last year and could be a contender to win the individual race. Sam Ferrar and Chase Armstrong, both seniors, also will fill out the varsity lineup.
“Our boys’ team looks a little bit different,” said Mattoon coach Troy Haacke. “ Brock is our returning number one. He looks great to start the season and we are looking for him to do great things this year. Sam Ferrar is also off to a great start and has been working hard. He has great motivation as he has missed All-Apollo twice by finishing 11th as a freshman and sophomore year. Chase Armstong is the third senior and is also putting in the work and I believe he is going to have a great year and set many PRs.”
Filling out the lineup will feature some mainstays with a mix of sophomores, too.
“Cale Fogerty is a junior and in his third year,” said Haacke. “He is also working hard with goals of setting PRs and will run varsity for us this year, along with Colton Smith and Aiden Hudson which both are sophomores. I look for them to make great strides this year and make an impact as we go through the season. I think Mahomet will continue to be a strong contender in the conference.”
Charleston has been steadily rebuilding the program and will return three of its top five runners. After finishing 16th at the conference meet, senior Luca Carcasi figures to be a candidate to run All-Apollo.
“I think he has a very good chance at being an all-conference runner this year with the summer mileage he put in,” said Charleston coach Greg Rogers. “Our top freshman, Blake Homann, also has the potential to be a strong runner this fall. It will take him an adjustment period to get used to the 3-mile distance, but I think he will improve tremendously throughout the season.”
Charleston finished last in the conference meet last year, but Rogers hopes to see the Trojans compete for a middle position in the final standings this year.
“I see ourselves competing with several teams to place somewhere in the middle of the conference, which would be a great improvement from 2020’s last-place finish,” said Rogers. “I just have to figure out ways to get our kids to buy into the process and have the desire and motivation to improve for each other. It is a long season so they will need to be resilient and have the desire to succeed. Mahomet-Seymour appears to be the clear favorite to win the conference.”
Predicted Apollo Conference Rankings (Daubs Rankings)
6. Mt. Zion
Top Apollo Conference Runners to Watch (Daubs Rankings)
1. Kyle Nofziger – Mahomet-Seymour
2. Joseph Scheele – Mahomet-Seymour
3. Brock Davee – Mattoon
4. Taylor Fan – Mahomet-Seymour
5. Brendan Heitzig – Lincoln
6. Jonah Singer – Mahomet-Seymour
7. Julian Baker – Mt. Zion
8. Hayden Grotelueschen – Mahomet-Seymour
9. Garrett Slack – Lincoln
10. Luca Carcasi – Charleton