McLouth teams show promise
McLouth cross country fielded a young team this fall, but Bulldog coach George Karn assembled another state team -- this time on the boys side.
The girls took eighth two years ago and ninth last fall. And this season, the boys team finished fifth at state.
With only one senior in Matt Scarlett and several young runners, MHS made its way from general inexperience to regional champions.
"Again, we had good numbers and we didn't have a lot of experience, but as they continued through the season, they continued to get a little bit better," Karn said. "They got quite a bit more focused at the end of the season than they were in the beginning of the season. As the season played out the boys did very well."
At state, Scarlett led the Bulldogs with a 10th-place finish. The talented Scarlett will be lost to graduation, but the rest of the state team will be back with junior Scott Smelser (45th), freshman Sam Anderson (53rd), junior Justin Drinnon (64th) and sophomore Nick Edgell (77th). Freshmen Lance Lamborn (95th) and Ryan Saxton (96th) also return.
For the MHS girls, expectations were high after two straight state berths. But with fewer runners than the boys team, MHS as a team didn't return to Wamego.
"We were, of course, small in numbers -- we had eight girls," Karn said. "You only need seven, but when you have injuries, it cuts into your strategy a little bit.
Senior Katie Booth ran with an ankle injury that initially started during track season in the spring. Crystal Snyder also battled shin splints and Hallie Watson experienced hamstring problems.
Watson was McLouth's lone girls representative at state. She finished 29th in Wamego.
The Bulldogs finished third at both Jeff West early in the season and Eudora late in the year, but Karn said the Eudora meet was the team's best.
"They started to recuperate a little bit," Karn said. "They showed some promise at the Eudora meet."
Watson and fellow junior Christie Gunther were first-team all-Delaware Valley League on the girls side, while Scarlett was first-team all-DVL and Smelser second-team. The top seven runners in the league meet automatically are first-team selections, while the next seven are second-team nominations.
MHS coach Rachel Webb reluctantly finished her first season at McLouth.
The Bulldogs finished the year at 10-18, a considerable improvement from a year before when the team was 0-10 in the DVL and 2-22 overall. In 2001, MHS won just one DVL match.
"I was really pleased with the season," Webb said. "The girls improved a lot. You really can't ask for more than that."
The season's highlight, Webb said, came late in the fall when McLouth placed third in the Oskaloosa tournament out of eight teams.
"That was kind of nice to end the season that way in a tournament," the coach said.
MHS must replace a senior class Webb said would be missed. It included Nicole Hoffhines, Katie Lewis, Kathryn Keyes and Emma Prochaska, who was named all-DVL honorable mention as an outside hitter.
Horton ended McLouth's season in a Class 2A substate quarterfinal, but Webb said this year's talented junior class will lead the team next fall.
Emily Nitzsche was an all-DVL selection as an outside hitter; fellow junior LeighAnna Thompson was an all-DVL honorable mention setter.
Along with a good junior class, Webb will have a full off-season to prepare for her second year.
"I'm excited they want me back for next year," Webb said. "I've got time to plan for next year. This year was kind of an introduction to the school and the girls."
Victory was so close for McLouth.
In the team's eighth game, MHS met Wathena, hoping to snap a two-year losing streak and an even longer drought at home. But a two-point conversion was ruled no good in the closing moments and McLouth fell in a heartbreaker, 21-20.
The Bulldogs, though, scored 20 or more points for the second week in a row after struggling early in the season offensively.
"We were playing well when it counted," first-year coach Harry Hester said. "It was very encouraging. The kids kept continuing to come out and worked to improve."
Against Wathena, the Bulldogs held the Wildcats to about 150 yards total offense, but gave up touchdowns after special teams breakdowns. Wathena worked with the short field on their drives, while McLouth's offense began to come alive with 300 yards of total offense in that game.
McLouth also put up more than 300 yards against Troy, but fell, 65-21.
The offense found a spark halfway through the season when Hester moved quarterback Jimmy Steffey to wide receiver and made Kevin Stewart the starting quarterback. Through five and a half games, Stewart threw for 498 yards and rushed for 452 yards. He was named honorable mention all-DVL as a quarterback.
Hester said Steffey should thrive as a wide receiver eventually.
"As he gets more knowledge and gets comfortable, he'll be an outstanding player," Hester said.
McLouth's leading rusher was senior Lester Dean, who racked up 551 yards on the ground. Sophomore Joel Gill was the team's leading receiver with 14 catches for 237 yards.
Dean, Fred Reynolds, Tyler Smith and Jake Perry will be lost to graduation. Smith was named second team all-DVL on defense as a nose guard.
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