After a few years of Mahomet-Seymour dominance, the Apollo Conference could be back to being anyone’s race. 

The Bulldogs dominated the Apollo last season by winning the conference by 48 points. With that said, the team lost three All-Apollo runners that placed in the top 5. That included losing the Apollo Conference champion Joseph Scheele to graduation. Kyle Nofziger and Johaah Singer also graduated and placed fourth and fifth respectively. 

The team does return All-Apollo senior Ben Wallace, who placed seventh last season, as well as senior Hayden Grouteluschen, who was 13th and could compete for an All-Apollo place this season. Former coach Neal Garrison stepped down after 20 years of coaching the Bulldogs, where he helped the team make the state finals eight times, including seven years in a row from 2011 to 2017. Garrison will now be a social worker at Tuscola High School and coach the cross country team. 

Stepping into his place will be Andrew Walmer, who once ran on those legendary state teams, which included a sixth-place finish at the State Finals as a senior in 2016. 

“After graduating a large group of seniors, we have a lot of guys ready to step up,” said Walmer. “Seniors Hayden Grotelueschen and Ben Wallace are experienced and willing to put in the work. Ben is our only returning All-Conference runner. Both have been training well this summer. With a young team and some changes to the program, our team is working on reestablishing its identity. Winning a conference title would be a great boost for their confidence and morale. I think our guys are capable, but so are other teams in the conference.”

Walmer suggested that Taylorville and Mount Zion could fight for the title. The Braves have one of the top returning runners in Julian Baker, who placed fifth last season as a sophomore, while Taylorville placed second as a team and returns a chunk of their team. Walmer suggested that Baker could contend for the individual title, but many other coaches suggest that everything will go through Brendan Heitzig of Lincoln. 

The incoming senior was the runner-up last season and lost to Scheele by a mere four seconds. Lincoln placed fourth in the conference as a team but lost two outstanding runners in Garrett Slack and Drake Rutledge from last season. 

Mattoon placed fifth, Effingham sixth, and Charleston seventh to round out the rest of the conference standings. 

Both Mattoon and Charleston will have new coaches this season. Mattoon hired former Cumberland cross country coach Jim Miller to replace Troy Haacke, who resigned to focus more time on girls basketball and girls track. As of now, the Green Wave are a young team and lost their best runner in All-Apollo finisher Brock Davee to graduation, who placed third overall in the Apollo last year. 

“Goals are simply getting better throughout the season,” said Miller. 

Charleston will be young as well and be led by two sophomores in Blake Homan and Dylan Hawk. However, the team did get Shelbyville transfer Luke Brewer, who ran at the state meet last year with the Rams. 

Brian Deadmond takes over for Greg Rogers, who resigned after last season. 

“I feel like we have done a great job of preparing over the summer,” said Deadmond. “The boys have been working hard and showing up for summer workouts. Our goals are to be competitive in the conference and improve each meet. “

Preseason Apollo Rankings

  1. Mahomet-Seymour
  2. Mount Zion
  3. Taylorville
  4. Lincoln
  5. Effingham
  6. Charleston
  7. Mattoon

Apollo Runners to Watch

  1. Brendan Heitzig (Lincoln) – Ran to an All-State finish at the State Finals last season as he was 18th overall. Heitzig placed second last year in the Apollo with a time of 15:50.6. 
  2. Julian Baker (Mount Zion) – Placed fifth as a sophomore and was in the mix for top-5. He finished with a time of 16:24.3. 
  3. Ben Wallace (Mahomet-Seymour) – Placed seventh as a junior with a time of 16:29.5. He will have to step up as the team’s number one runner. 
  4. Andrew Donaldson (Effingham) – Placed eighth as a junior with a time of 16:33.8. He will lead an Effingham team that returns three of their top runners. 
  5. Owen Morgan (Taylorville) – Just missed All-Apollo with an 11th place. He was seven seconds away from the top 10 and finished with a time of 16:56.5. 
  6. Hayden Grouteluschen (Mahomet-Seymour) – Finished 13th with a time of 17:02.9 and will need to make the jump to be the second-faster runner.