BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON — Not many cross country teams have the luxury of returning a state qualifier.
Mt. Vernon has that top-flight athlete in senior David Modert. He finished 34th in last season's state final, and coach Clint Turner said he wants Modert to push for a top 25 finish and all-state honors this fall. It's a mark only about a half dozen Rams runners have achieved in the school's history.
Modert also enters the season as the defending South Seven cross country champion.
“And I think he's ready and what we're working on with him is jumping to another level with our training,” Mt. Vernon boys cross country coach Clint Turner said. “If you can get inside that top 25 and all state, that's a real accomplishment. In the history of our school, we haven't had a lot of those.”
A season ago, Mt. Vernon placed second in the South Seven Conference as a team behind Carbondale. The Rams rallied to win the sectional but failed to qualify as a team for state.
“Boy I thought we were really on a roll and ready to go into postseason and man we just didn't run very well at that state-qualifying sectional as a team,” Turner said. “And that was the end of our season, which I thought we had a shot at going to the state meet. I think we have a shot at going to the state meet this year.”
Turner said he's tweaked some of the workouts this season, and once again qualifying for Peoria is a goal. Turner added the opening few meets at Murphysboro and Granite City will be used as a springboard.
“We'll kick off with two really good meets to start with that will be the start of the speed work,” Turner said.
Surrounding Modert, the Rams will have a small number but several solid veteran group of runners. The Rams have eight total runners on the squad. The number includes one incoming freshman.
Turner said he expects Jordan Wilemon (senior), Ethan Badger (junior), Daniel Flood (junior) and Brykell Patton (senior) to help form a solid core.
Turner said he witnessed Wilemon improve in the second half of the spring track season.
“His runs are a lot better,” Turner said. “He's a lot closer to David on a lot of the trainings.
Right there with Wilemon is Badger, and Turner said Flood improved himself in the mile run on the track. That experience carries into the cross country season.
Patton was used as a hurdler in the track months, and Turner said his transition into cross country form has taken a bit longer.
“It's taken him a little longer to get going, but he's really starting to come,” Turner said. “
Jordan Hubbard who transferred to Mt. Vernon from Collinsville joins the team as a junior. Tyler Williams will run as a sophomore.
“He and Jordan both are just now getting the mileage and getting the training in to where they can start to compete for three miles,” Turner said.
Hagen Schneider is the lone freshman on the team. He comes to the Rams from Field Grade School.
“Late October we're really going to see an improvement in him where he'll really start coming on and get good for us,” Turner said.
For the first time in several decades Mt. Vernon won't be hosting its invitational. Typically, its the only home meet of the season for Turner's team. The coach said teams have consistently dropped out of the event for the past decade. Mt. Vernon entered this season with the possibility of facing just three other schools. Turner said at its height, the invitational drew close to three dozen schools to the city. The event lost numerous schools after other teams dropped out to host their own invitationals over the years. Belleville West dropped out and drew in about a dozen Metro East schools. Several also went north to Peoria where they get experience running on the state final course.
“Literally we only had about a loyal three teams that were going to be there,” Turner said.
The Rams open the season Sept. 4 in Murphysboro.