WEST LAFAYETTE -- This season will be one of changes for the Ridgewood High cross country program staring off right at the top with a new coach.
Matt Shannon takes over the RHS harriers this season, replacing former coach Lester McCurdy who is now in charge of the Generals' golf team.
Shannon, a graduate of River View High where he ran cross country, track and wrestled for the Black Bears. Shannon has been coaching track at River View the last two years and has also served as junior high wrestling coach at Ridgewood for the past three years.
"I'm very excited for this opportunity to coach cross country here at Ridgewood," Shannon said. "I really have a great group of kids to work with and we are busy getting ready for the season, it's just an exciting time for me."
Change number two for the Generals' cross country is one that has Shannon smiling widely as he welcomes a three-time regional qualifier to the RHS program in senior Jessika McCoun.
McCoun, a transfer student from nearby Newcomerstown High qualified for the regional cross country meet in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and is regarded as one of the top runners in the area.
"Of course we are thrilled to have Jessika with us this year," Shannon said. "We are expecting big things from here and it's quite a boost to the team to add a runner of her caliber."
Shannon then has a pair of first-year runners to round out his girls' team in freshman Taylor Danley and junior Ciara Tarulli.
"Both Taylor and Ciara are running for the first time so there is a learning curve for them," Shannon explained. "But they are showing a lot of ability and also the desire to be great runners which is a real positive."
On the boys side for RHS, Shannon has better numbers to work with as his roster is comprised of eight runners this year.
Leading the way will be junior two-year letterman AJ Allman, who Shannon has tabbed with captain honors this year, while the other returning veteran for the Generals is junior Nathan Schwartz.
Rounding out the RHS roster are junior Josh Prince, sophomore Travis Vickers and freshmen Jesse Olinger, Austin Ellis, Dakota Crites and Jared Michael.
"We lost one senior boy to graduation and return two lettermen this year," Shannon said. "The rest of our runners are freshmen or first time runners so we are a very young team."
"But they are showing a lot of promise and I'm very optimistic," Shannon added. "If they train hard mentally and physically I fully expect to have a really good season."
Shannon will be assisted by Joe Douglas, who has been coaching track at River View for the last five years.