Last season, the boy’s cross country team reached the state meet for the first time since 2012 and took home a ninth-place team finish. Heading into 2021, the Panthers are aiming to build off a successful 2020 campaign but will need new pieces to step up into significant roles.
The Panthers showed a lot of promise in the postseason, winning the regional meet to go to state with a team score of 67, which was 23 points better than second and third place finishers Wichita East and Dodge City.
“Our goal going into regionals was to finish within the top three and go to state,” head cross country coach Jimmy Adams said. “They messed around and won it by accident, and it was a pretty convincing win. They put the beatdown on the other schools, and all had impressive runs.”
Austin Hock was the lead finisher for Derby in that regional meet, placing second with a time of 16:39.60. Hock was also the leader at the state meet with a 23rd place finish. Adams anticipates that he will be one of the key pieces for the squad this season after losing four seniors.
Seniors Austin and Ethan Hock, Evan Franke and junior Issac Brown will be the top returners from last season. Ethan Hock finished the regional meet with the third-best time for the Panthers, which was good enough for 12th overall.
According to Adams, the Hock brothers are likely to be the top runners for the squad and praised Ethan Hock for how he finished the season last year.
“Ethan was like our number seven runner, and then all of a sudden he was our number two,” Adams said. “We knew he had it in him when he transferred in as a sophomore. He really turned on the jets around regionals.”
Adams expects the top guys to build off the success from last season and a solid track season last spring.
“A lot of our cross country runners run track as well,” Adams said. “Most of these kids had very good track seasons, so we are hoping to build off the momentum from that and where they finished cross county last year.”
The biggest unknown for the Panthers is the opening for the critical fifth spot on the varsity squad, and Adams will have to wait and see if there will be a runner who will set themselves apart for that crucial spot.
“We have to find a fifth runner out there from some of the younger kids if they want to be successful as a group,” Adams said.
The fifth spot is crucial in cross country to grab critical points for the team.
“You have to have five solid runners to be competitive, and you really need to get solid six or seven runners if anything happens with a tie,” Adams said. “You just never know how the kids are going to respond on that particular day, and sometimes that sixth or seventh guy can step up.”
Returning to state as a team for a second straight season and establishing a new expectation for the boy’s program is the biggest hope for the Panthers. But, for now, building off the momentum and becoming a threat at the league and regional levels is imperative for state success.
“We are trying to build off the success we had last year,” Adams said. “We want to be competitive at the league level, and regionals can change every year, so you have to wait and see. We just want to see the boys compete no matter where they are at, and getting back to the state would be exciting for them.”