Norah Pearson

Knoxville's Norah Pearson runs at a cross country meet in 2019.

KNOXVILLE — There is reason for excitement for Knoxville’s cross country teams this year as both squads welcome some young, consistent runners to join their returners.

The boys will lose six seniors from last year’s team but will welcome back six boys that bounced between varsity and JV. Those six are Seth Walraven, Peter Picard, Max Purvis, Kaden McGill, Carson Irving and Joey Hembrook.

The Panthers will also be joined by freshman Henry Picard, who seventh-year head coach Michael Splavec said had a great summer of training.

“Our team continues to be a young team which is both a strength and weakness,” Michael Splavec said. “We will be bringing in a lot of new consistent varsity runners. Half of the returning letterwinners were sporadically on and off varsity. We have had a great, shortened, summer of training and are excited for even more training as the season has now begun.”

The Knoxville boys took eighth as a team last year at the state qualifier. They will hope to get closer to qualifying as a team this year while Walraven, who finished 34th in 2019, will try to crack the top 15 this season and earn a trip to state.

“We have some big meets that we have circled on our calendar, like every year,” Michael Splavec said. “We enjoy the tough competition at Pella on Saturday Sept. 5, our big Home Invitational on Sept. 29, as well the Conference Meet at Davis County on Oct. 13th. We have many athletes who have big goals of qualifying for state, so we look far off at the State Qualifying Meet on Oct. 22nd.”

On the girls side, second-year head coach Mikayla Splavec also loses six seniors and returns six runners to the team.

Returners for Knoxville include Jalen Nelson, Tanna Davis, Dani Johnston, Norah Pearson, Olivia Maasdam and Sophie Murphy. They will be joined by junior Taylor Jones and freshman Natalie Collins. Neither have ran cross country before but will bring some welcomed depth to the team.

“We have a pretty young team,” Mikayla Splavec said. “Many of our girls are doing cross country for the first time so we will have some learning to do in regards to running meets, but they had a really strong summer and are excited for the season ahead. Our returners are really stepping up as leaders this season after the graduation of half of our team this past year.”

Pearson is the highlight of the group after a fantastic freshman year that saw her finish second at the state qualifier and fifth at state while breaking the school record with a time of 18:56.

She now enters her sophomore season hoping to repeat the success of her first season in high school cross country while raising the bar for her teammates and hoping Knoxville can improve upon their eighth place finish as a team last season at the state qualifier.

“We tend to see tough competition at the Pella meet on Saturday, Sept. 5, our big home meet on Sept. 29, and the Conference Meet at Davis County on Oct. 13,” Mikayla Splavec said. “We also have athletes looking to qualify for state and the State Qualifying Meet is always a challenge as well.”

Colin Peters can be reached at 641-672-2581, by email at cpeters@oskyherald.com or on Twitter @ColinPetersOH.

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