By BEN JOHNSON
Tahlequah’s boys cross country team has entered a new realm of running. No, the Tigers haven’t conjured a new style of running; they’re embarking on a journey into unchartered territory.
Allow Tahlequah coach Jason Proctor to explain.
“Our stable of horses — or those names that everyone knows from the last two to three years — they’re gone,” Proctor said. “This is kind of a no-name batch.”
No longer lacing up their running shoes for the Tigers are Ben Grant, Reno Blum, Micah Holcomb, Moe Brown or Ara Poteete. The torch has been passed on to a group that now only features one senior, Aaron Eversole.
“I’ve kind of been saying for the last month with them that this is a new era of Tahlequah cross country,” Proctor said. “And it’s time for (them) to make their mark, and I think they’re buying into that.”
It’d be hard to argue that after Thursday’s results.
Tahlequah junior Zech VanFleet set the standard for the Tigers in their season-opening event, recording a course record of 12:34.14 to claim first place at the Early Tiger Invitational. VanFleet averaged 3:08.6 per 1,000 meters in the 4,000-meter race.
VanFleet said a fire was lit under the Tigers when they finished third behind Deer Creek and Coweta the Class 5A state meet in 2012.
“We’re very competitive with Coweta, and last year was the first time they had beaten us in a long time,” said VanFleet, who finished second overall at the state meet as a sophomore.
“That made us think a lot.”
Poteete graduated in May, leaving an open spot on Tahlequah’s roster. But the void was quickly filled by Braxton Hood and Michael Spears. The Tiger duo finished fifth and 12th, respectively, at Tahlequah’s opening meet.
“They’re taking what they learned from their mentors in the past, and they’re taking that and trying to add to it,” Proctor said. “(Thusrday) they did that. They ran very well, and I was very pleased.”
The team title was Tahlequah’s first at the Early Tiger Invitational in seven years. Proctor said that was goal No. 1 for the Tigers this year.
“That was a huge milestone for us,” he said. “That was one of our goals, and to have Zech come out and break a course record, that was huge.”
The Tahlequah girls — also team champs at the Early Tiger Invitational — are transitioning into the 2013 season without Jessica Hembree, a three-time state champion in Class 5A.
“We’ve got almost everyone intact,” Tahlequah girls coach Elzy Miller said. “We lose Jessica Hembree, which was a big bundling in No. 1, but Amy (Hembree) and Gracie (Medellin) came through and ran really well (on Thursday).”
Hembree and Medellin finished third and fourth, respectively, on their home course.
This season, the Tahlequah girls will constantly lean Amy Hembree, Medellin, Lindsey Chaffin, Alejandra Medellin, Madison Reed and Miranda Bohannon.
“Our first three — Amy, Gracie and Lindsay — they just go out and do their thing,” said Miller, whose team finished second at the state meet in 2012.
“They go out and work hard and work their way to the front after the first half of the race.”