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POY WATCH: Boys cross country watch looking for next wave of standouts
FCN POYWATCH 070816 web
Forsyth Central's Calan Gizelbach (left) and Lamberts Lee Keil are among a group of returning boy cross country runners with the chance to compete for FCNs Nalley Roofing Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year honors this season. - photo by File photo/For the Forsyth County News

The Player of the Year Watch is presented by Nalley Roofing.

While girls cross country in Forsyth County loses a giant in the sport in South Forsyth’s Savannah Carnahan this upcoming season, boys cross country in the county loses two.

Lambert’s Jonathan Schwind and West Forsyth’s John Green jockeyed the past two seasons as the best runners in the county, and it was something of a draw. Schwind was the Forsyth County News’ 2014 Boys Runner of the Year and had the highest finish of any county boy runner at the state meet (fifth) that season. Green was last season’s Boys Runner of the Year and had the highest finish of any county boy runner at the state meet (third, no matter what the GHSA says). Even more, both signed athletic scholarships with Lipscomb University in Tennessee.

But both are gone, as is the posse of steady seniors from Forsyth Central (Wes Bacastow, Will Hasse, Cole Gizelbach, Max Warner) who collectively catapulted the Bulldogs into state contenders in Class 5A. In short, it’s possible this upcoming boys cross country season lacks “star power.”

Or, maybe one of the five following runners return this season ready to take the next step:

BRANDON BURT // Lambert

The rising junior teamed with Schwind to help the Longhorns to their best season in school history, winning the Region 6-6A championship and finishing a county-best fifth at the state meet in Class 6A, the best finish in program history.

Burt averaged 17:16 in seven races last season, finishing seventh at region and 50th at state. His season-best was 16:43 at the Spikes and Spurs Classic.

Why Burt: His season-best time of 16:43 is one of the fastest times for a returning runner, providing perhaps a glimpse of his potential.

Why not: Burt never broke 17:00 again after opening the season at Spikes and Spurs, although he came close twice – at the Coach Wood Invitational (17:01) and region (17:04). He’ll have to live below there to really ascend into player-of-the-year contention.

TYLER FOX // Lambert

The rising junior was the Longhorns’ solid No. 2 runner behind Schwind last season.

Fox averaged 17:10 over seven races, finishing third in Region 6-6A and 17th at the state meet in Class 6A. Three times he finished in the top 10, including second place at the Warpath Invitational.

Why Fox: With Schwind’s graduation, Fox seemingly inherits the No. 1 spot for the Longhorns just by virtue of his times last season. The top runner on arguably the top team entering this season – that’s a good position to be in for player-of-the-year consideration.

Why not: Schwind left big shoes to fill. Can Fox fill them? Fox was wonderfully consistent last season, particularly toward the end when he went 16:52, 16:54 and 16:58 in his final three races.

CALAN GIZELBACH // Forsyth Central

The rising sophomore was a big boost to the Bulldogs last season, cracking their top five to help Central win the Region 7-5A championship and finish second in Class 5A at the state meet.

Gizelbach averaged 17:23 over eight races, including three top 20 finishes and one top 10, and he finished 25th at the state meet.

Why Gizelbach: If Central is to maintain the momentum is built the past three seasons, Gizelbach will have to lead the way. The Bulldogs graduated its other top four runners. If he can keep Central competitive as it moves to Region 5 in Class 7A along with the county’s other public high schools, it would be a compelling player-of-the-year scenario.

Why not: Gizelbach fit the mold of Central runners last season – steady but not overly spectacular. Although his sixth place finish at the Region 7-5A meet suggests he’s comfortable running up front.

LEE KEIL // Lambert

The rising junior averaged 17:29 in five races last season for the Longhorns, including a season-best 17:02 at the Coach Wood Invitational.

Why Keil: While Keil’s season started off a bit slow – he didn’t run varsity in two of Lambert’s first four races – he made up for it by season’s end, particularly at the state meet where he placed 30th in Class 6A in 17:35.

Not to mention, he won the 800-meter run at the Region 6-6A Track and Field Championships in 1:58.26.

Why not: Keil doesn’t have an extensive track record in cross country, though one of his early-season highlights was a ninth place finish at Warpath. Keil may be just starting to scratch the surface.

MATT PATTERSON // South Forsyth

The rising senior replaced 2013 Forsyth County News Boys Runner of the Year Ryan Peppenhorst as the War Eagles’ top runner and kept South in the picture as a state contender for much of last season.

Patterson averaged 16:48 over 10 races, including two top 15 finishes and six top 10 finishes.

Why Patterson: No other returning runner has the same kind of résumé Patterson does. He lived under 17:00 last season, and almost got under 16:00 three times. He probably edges Fox as the preseason favorite.

Plus, this is his senior season. That’s often powerful enough motivation for high school athletes to reach their full potential.

Why not: Patterson probably wanted better finishes at the Region 6-6A and state meets last season. He finished behind Fox and Burt at region, placing ninth, and at state, placing 64th.

Past runners-of-the-year have been rewarded for performing well in the biggest races of the season.