BOONE — Watauga’s cross-country teams are generally fixtures at the top of the Northwestern Conference standings for both boys and girls.

The chances for that happening in 2019 are high, especially when the Pioneers have several runners on both teams returning from 2018, and who can move to the front of the league standings at the end of this season.

Watauga gets a chance to see its depth on display in the Pioneer Clash of the Classes, which will be run as a scrimmage on the Watauga course on Aug. 17. The event matches school’s seniors, then juniors, then sophomores and then freshmen against each other in separate races.

The event is classified as a scrimmage, so no awards will be given. But, the event is already receiving several inquiries from different schools, including three from Tennessee, for the races.

The Clash will be run at Watauga’s cross-country course behind the high school.

Watauga’s boys’ team features rising senior Avery Cannon, who returns for his senior season. The girls’ team features Sophia Ritter, who is also entering her senior year.

Watauga coach Randy McDonough said having Cannon and Ritter returning for their senior seasons is a good way to start the year.

“Right now and unofficially, the boys are ranked third in the state and the girls are ranked ninth,” McDonough said. “I actually think the girls are a little better than that. They’re not getting them credit for the progress that a lot of our girls did in track last year.”

Ritter finished fifth in the state 3-A 3,200-meter run at Belk Track in Greensboro on May 17. Watauga also finished eighth in the girls’ 3,200-meter relay at the 3-A state finals.

Ritter added a fourth-place finish for women in the Bear Race, which kicked off the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in early July.

Ritter also finished sixth in the state 3-A cross-country with a time of 18 minutes, 33.94 seconds. McDonough said Ritter was battling illness during the track finals, but he feels she has battled back from it.

“She definitely has a good chance at winning (a state title) if she stays healthy all the way through,” McDonough said.

Watauga girls’ team returns plenty of depth. Rising sophomores Sidra Miller, who finished third in the NWC meet, rising senior Riley Fowler (sixth in the NWC meet) and Sophie Beach (seventh in the NWC meet), return with state meet experience.

Watauga also returns rising seniors Rebecca Anderson, Kate Tuberty, Lena Miller and Kyla Marze, rising sophomores Daisey Coffey, Isabella Sibaja and rising junior Isabelle Broman-Fulks, who all finished in the top 21 in the 2018 NWC meet.

“We’ve got some new girls coming in and we’ve got a quite a few back from last year,” McDonough said. “We had a lot of depth last year for the first time on the girls’ side in many years.”

Cannon finished 25th in the state 3-A finals. Gavin Sweeney returns for his sophomore year after making an impact with the Pioneers as a freshman. Sweeney finished fourth in the NWC meet, sixth in the 3-A West Regional 3,200-meter run and 35th in the 3-A cross-country finals.

Caleb Coatney, a rising senior, was sixth in the NWC meet 63rd in the state cross-country meet, while Ethan Turner, another rising senior, was fifth in the NWC meet and 88th in the 2018 cross-country finals.

Korben Anderson, a rising sophomore, added an eighth-place finish in the NWC race and was 108th in the state meet, while Caleb Cox was 10th in the NWC race and posted a 112th finish in the state cross-country finals.

Watauga also brings back Rein Freeman and David Mims.

“We were junior-dominated last year, so we bring back a good nucleus,” McDonough said.

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