CORUNNA — It’s a new season, in a lot of ways, for the Corunna girls cross country team.

The Cavaliers have a new coach in Ashleigh Percival, who took over for Bryan Heid. He coached the boys and girls last year, but is exclusively coaching the boys team in 2019.

Asked if her team teasingly gives him the side-eye, co-captain Evie Wright said with a grin, “Not too many. Not to his face, anyway.” She then laughed heartily.

As for her new coach, Wright was upbeat.

“I like her a lot,” she said. “We do a lot of team-building exercises and bonding stuff. It’s been really helpful.”

Percival, in her first year as a varsity coach, has been in a bit of a whirlwind herself.

She ran for Perry and at Alma, then worked with Corunna Middle School athletes the last three years for Steve Bentley, who was one of her coaches at Perry.

“I was approached about two weeks before the season began,” Percival said. “I was asked if I wanted to coach cross country. I was honored to be asked, but it was definitely a surprise.”

She knew a couple of her runners, having coached Lilly Evans and Tatum Galbavi in middle school, but the last month has been a period of adjustment for everyone involved.

“I went in wanting to have a good relationship with the team,” Percival said. “I wanted them to know I was committed to the team and so far, it’s gone pretty great. They seem to be enjoying themselves.”

Helping smooth the way, Percival said, are Evans and Wright, a pair of junior captains who joined the graduated Kate Feldpausch as a leadership triumvirate on and off the course.

Feldpausch, now at Michigan Tech, helped keep the team focused, a job that now falls on Evans and Wright.

“We’re doing our best to keep everyone together,” Wright said. “There are a lot of new people this year and not a lot of veterans. We’re doing our best to bring along the freshmen and the new runners, to get them up to the standards we’re used to. We take running very seriously.”

Their presence, Percival says, has made the transition go smoothly.

“They’re very knowledgeable in the program and they help guide athletes,” she said. “They’ve really helped a lot. Sometimes it’s easier to hear stuff from peers as opposed to coaches talking to athletes. It helps a lot.”

The Cavaliers also are adjusting to the Flint Metro League, which has 12 team jamborees instead of the six-team meets in the Genesee Area Conference.

“It gives them a new perspective on cross country and what they’re up against,” Percival said. “It pushes them. I think it’s great preparation for the regional and state meets.

“I’m really excited to see where we go from here,” she continued. “I got lucky. I have quite an awesome team.”

Here is a look at area teams:

BYRON

Coach: Olivia Lake-Lofiego (17th season).

Key returners: Alissa Ash, Jenna Belmas, Jenna Goodrich, Kaitlyn Hankins, Hunter Luke, Becky Marvin, Emily Williams.

Key newcomers: Allison Hooley.

Outlook: The Eagles are off a strong start without Luke, who started the season with a boot on her left leg due to an injury. When she returns, the returning MMAC champions will be that much more formidable. Krejci already has broken 20 minutes this season, and the return of Luke (who holds the school record at 19 minutes, 15 seconds in the 5K) should give the Eagles a formidable 1-2 punch. “This is the strongest team we’ve ever seen in Byron,” Lake-LoFiego said. “Definitely two of the hardest-working teams (along with the boys) I’ve ever had the honor to coach.” Krejci has already won twice, at the Corunna Early Bird Aug. 27 and Tuesday in the first MMAC meet of the year.

CHESANING

Coach: Dylan Harrington (fifth season).

Key returners: Emily Graham, Olivia Grover, Karlie Lewis, Preslee Slankard.

Key newcomers: Emma Soelberg, Emily Smith, Eliana Germaine.

Outlook: The newcomers are leading the way for the Indians. Soelberg and Smith, both freshmen, and Germaine, a sophomore, each had personal bests at Shepherd last week. There’s not a lot of depth, with only a dozen runners, but Chesaning appears to have a solid foundation moving forward after a fifth-place finish last season. Next year could be even better — with no seniors, everyone can come back next season.

CORUNNA

Coach: Ashleigh Percival (first season)

Key returners: Emma Bruckman, Lilly Evans, Evie Wright.

New newcomers: Alexis Bukovick, Kirsten Simmons.

Outlook: Bukovick and Simmons return after missing all or most of last season, and Bruckman is steadily improving. Evans and Wright will lead the way, but the advances made by their teammates in dropping times will determine how well the Cavaliers do this fall.

DURAND

Coach: Joe Whitman

Key returners: Hannah Johnson, Meghan McPherson, Logan Zerka.

Key newcomers: Emma Cole, Cady Freier.

Outlook: The Railroaders have the minimum number of runners to form a team, but room to grow, with just one upperclassman in McPherson. Zerka has two top 10s so far.

LAINGSBURG

Coach: Shawn Baynes (first season)

Key returners: Emma Kribs, Danielle Winans, Shaily Baynes.

Outlook: Baynes takes over for Mal Balow, who retired after 24 seasons as coach. He starts with 10 runners this season, but three already have personal bests, with the likelihood of more to come as the rebuilding process begins. Kribs, a sophomore, is in her second season as the Wolfpack’s top runner. Her times should drop as the season rolls on.

MORRICE

Coach: Nikki Johnston.

Key returners: Josie Howard, Hayley Lademann, Tamaki Scribner.

Key newcomers: Maisie Campbell, Lillie Corbat.

Outlook: Corbat and Campbell are off to strong starts for the Orioles. Corbat has lowered her personal best three times already and Campbell has done it twice. Howard and Lademann have been steady performers as well. The Orioles could have a pretty nice season, with seniors Howard and Lademann showing the ropes to Corbat and Campbell, who both are freshmen.

NEW LOTHROP

Coaches: Greg and Vera Root (16th season), Ashley Kuhl (sixth season)

Key returners: Alana Beckman, Sidney Green, Clara Krupp, Lauren Lane, Julia Martin, Lindsey Wendling.

Outlook: The Hornets are in a rebuilding mode. They are led by Krupp, a sophomore who already is within 10 seconds of the personal best she set last year. Krupp is looking to return to the state meet for the second year in a row; she is yet to finish outside the top three in a race, with two wins to her credit.

OVID-ELSIE

Coach: Nick Ekel

Key returners: Emme Koutz, Samantha Grubaugh.

Key newcomers: Alexis Spitzley, Ella Powell, Abigail Prewitt, Alyse Ladiski.

Outlook: The Marauders have a roster that runs just six-deep. Koutz is a senior, Grubaugh a sophomore, and the rest are freshmen. The ninth-graders have a chance to help rebuild the program and make their own mark over the next four years. Koutz should provide a steady foundation, with two top 10s already on her resume in 2019.

OWOSSO

Coach: Brock Holtsclaw.

Key returners: Claire Drake, Claudia Drake, Emma Perry

Key newcomers: Emma Johnson, Brieanna Wood.

Outlook: Johnson and Wood have gotten out to fast starts, recording the Trojans’ two best times this season. Owosso has just two seniors and plenty of room to develop over the next couple of seasons.

PERRY

Coach: Amanda Moore.

Key returners: Ella Kloeckner, Grace O’Neill, Daisy York.

Key newcomers: Megan Litomisky, Kaitlyn Wilcox.

Outlook: The Ramblers have just five runners. Three of them, including O’Neill and Kloeckner, are sophomores who have run Perry’s two best times this season. O’Neill, who burst onto the scene as a freshman by winning her first race, ran fourth at the Corunna Early Bird and was seventh last week at the Marauder Invite.

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