In most sports, losing a team’s top athlete would the coach sleepless nights.
Donna Carpentier hasn’t had that problem with her Lake Norman High boys’ cross country team, which lost one of the region’s top long-distance runners to graduation.
“I don’t want to say that I’m pessimistic, it’s just the opposite,” Carpentier said. “I don’t want to sound too comfortable either, but we have some mighty strong talent … talent that goes deep into the team. We could have 12-15 strong runners this season.”
The Wildcats lost five runners to graduation from last year’s team, which won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A West Regional meet and finished 11th at the NCHSAA 4A state championship.
Tops among them was Patrick Sheehan, who holds most of Lake Norman’s long-distance running records. Sheehan – now a freshman on N.C. State’s cross country and track teams – won the North Piedmont 3A/4A individual title, finished second at the 4A West Regional and fifth at the 4A state meet last season.
“Patrick was a big part of where we are now, he really set the pace for the program,” said senior Ty Sauerbrey, one of the Wildcats’ two captains along with fellow senior Wes Anderson. “But in terms of overall success, we’re so much closer as a team now. One person can’t win a whole meet. Now it’s about sticking together as a team.”
That’s where Lake Norman’s strength will lie this season.
Over the past several years, Sheehan was good for an individual win or a high finish, but his Wildcats teammates would lag behind in the finishing order – often by a minute or more. That won’t be as much of an issue this season, according to Carpentier.
“This could potentially be a stronger team, because all of our scorers will be grouped together a little bit more,” Carpentier said. “And I’m seeing the potential to have that group finish at or near the front.”
Sauerbrey and Anderson, who made the All-North Piedmont 3A/4A team last year, are expected to be among the frontrunners in Lake Norman’s scoring group, as are fellow senior Wyatt Fedorka – who is focusing on cross country this season after splitting time with the Wildcats’ boys’ soccer team – junior Jack Mastrandrea, who also made the All-NPC team last year, and sophomore Jacob Ennis.
But it could be Lake Norman’s junior varsity unit that has the biggest impact, according to Sauerbrey. That group – which includes seniors, Jack Mueller and Dylan Kochevar, juniors Drew Clancy, Doug Howard and Zack Clark; and sophomore Evan Harris – is expected to push the front five, both at practice and at meet competition.
“Our varsity and JV has such a competition going,” Sauerbrey said. “We left things at such a high point last year – winning the regional, and going to the states – it’s a matter of keeping the ball rolling, keep the success going.”
The Wildcats are attracting some notice. They’re ranked 18th in the state in NCRunners.com preseason team rankings. Compare that to last season, when Lake Norman began its schedule unranked and finished the year at No. 23 in the state.
“Our feeling is sort of a quiet confidence,” Carpentier said. “We know what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been training. We know the secret we’re holding, which is some of these kids are going to come out strong. They know that, and they have that confidence.”