By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville Panthers have plenty of young talent on hand as they get set for the H-DNL cross country season, which gets under way at Del Norte on Wednesday.
Second-year head coach Jim Hebert has a number of first and second-year runners on his team, including top girls runner Kim Lewis, a sophomore back for her second year on the team.
On the boys side, junior Cody Rheinschmidt is expected to lead the charge in the absence of senior West Wood, the defending league champion who has opted not to run this season for personal reasons.
“He’s really put in the work and is pulling into form,” Hebert said of Rheinschmidt, who has looked good in practice.
Overall, Hebert has been impressed with his teams’ willingness to work hard despite not having huge numbers on the roster.
“They listen to everything I say,” Hebert said. “Cross country is always a tough sell. It’s a hard sport for people to get used to, even if you’re good. And it’s really impressive to me that they are willing to come out and work hard.”
In addition to Rheinschmidt, the head coach is expecting big contributions from Aidan Davis, as well as sophomore Ryan Bray — who has been “working his tail off,” according to the coach — and freshman Damian Dinan.
On the girls side, Lewis expected to be the team’s top runner.
“She’s a tough kid,” Hebert said.
Newcomers on the girls side include senior Olivia Rink, a soccer player who like many student athletes around the H-DNL is happy to come out and compete in a new sport just to be back out there.
Likewise with junior tennis player Hannah Jacobs, as well as sophomore sprinter Soffia Reyes, each of whom joins the cross country team this year.
“She’s wicked fast and a pretty competitive spirit,” Hebert said of Reyes.
Freshman Caitlyn Canepa is also a soccer player running cross country for the first time and adding crucial depth for the Panthers.