ELKO — First-year cross country head coach Hilary Kohntopp knows she “has some big shoes to fill.”
For 11 seasons, she was the assistant coach to a two-decade staple of Elko’s running program — Cody Krenka leaving and becoming the principal of Adobe Middle School.
While numbers and experience for the 2019 season are down, Kohntopp still has high expectations for a proven program.
Elko’s boys topped all comers in 2018, winning the Division 3A state championship in a tight battle.
The Indians tallied 54 points and charged late for a five-point victory over runner-up Spring Creek.
The win gave Elko two in a row narrow decisions over the Spartans, the Indians winning the 3A North regional title by seven points the week before, the Indians’ first regional crown in program history.
As Elko attempts to defend its state title, the Indians will do so without some major components from their championship runners.
“We’re pretty good, but it’s super early,” Kohntopp said. “The only senior I have from last year’s state team is Duncan Monroe.”
As a junior, Monroe placed 15th at the state meet with a time of 18:13.7, missing a 2nd-Team All-State selection by one spot, serving as Elko’s No. 2 runner.
After picking up running competitively last season, Elko should be thrilled about the potential of now-sophomore Isaiah Dahl.
His time of 18:04.9 during the Dani Bates Invitational during his first varsity meet, in Twin Falls, Idaho, was the fastest run of any freshman in the state of Nevada, regardless of division, opening a 27-second lead over the second-fastest ninth grader in the Silver State.
At the Nevada state meet, he ranked 17th with a time of 18:17.8, the fourth-fastest total on the team.
Junior Jimmy Murphy returns for the 2019 season, his time of 18:42.6 placing 26th at state and marking the Indians’ fifth-fastest time.
Elko’s state roster was capped by now-sophomore Philip Neff, who notched a 45th-place run as a freshman and finished 45th in the state.
Kohntopp said has a “ton of freshmen” and looks to returning runners to step in and replace the large shoes left by Elko’s proven, departed athletes.
“I think (junior) Noah Haase and (junior) Carlos Correa are going to be good for us, and we have some god sophomores — Gavin Nicola and Kevin Tanner,” she said. “I think freshmen Tyler Fadenrecht and Josh Maynard are two boys who can potentially make varsity. Caleb Marma (senior) came out for cross country too.”
The largest absence of the 2019 season comes from the departure of 1st-Team All-State runner Alex Klekas, who will compete for the College of Idaho.
In 2018, Klekas ranked second in the 3A North regional and 3A state meets.
At state, he crossed the finish line in 16:53.5.
Klekas was named a 2018 1st-Team All-State cross country runner — encompassing nominations from Divisions 1A through the 4A — by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in its annual Best of Nevada Preps awards.
During his freshman season, Elko won the 2015 I-A state title.
Klekas is a four-time state qualifier — placing eighth as a freshman, sixth as a sophomore and fourth during his junior year with an injury — notching a runner-up finish individually as a senior.
He was also second for two 3A North regional runs during his sophomore and senior seasons, missing the regional meet as a junior with a badly-sprained ankle.
According to Krenka, Klekas’ 15:55 was Elko’s fastest 5K cross country time of the last-20 years — accomplishing the feat on Oct. 5, 2018, during the Lowry Invitational on the Winnemucca Golf Course.
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Unfortunately, Alex will not be the only Klekas absent from the Indians’ 2018 championship squad.
Now-junior Sean Klekas — Elko’s No. 3 runner during his sophomore year — finished 16th in the state with a time of 18:17.2.
“He had a kidney infection after the basketball season and didn’t run track,” Kohntopp said. “He didn’t come out for cross country. I think he just wants to focus on basketball.”
One Neff returns, another leaves.
Peter Neff graduated in June after ranking No. 6 on the Indians’ 2018 state squad, placing 39th with a time of 19:24.6.
In 2018, the Elko girls cross country team earned the third and final berth to the state meet.
The Lady Indians fell one spot at state, finishing fourth.
Thankfully, of Elko’s seven girls who competed in the 3A state meet — none graduated.
Elko will return top runner Xandry De Arrieta for her junior season.
As a sophomore, she rounded out the top-20 with a time of 21:56.1.
The Lady Indians also welcome back junior Loulou Neff.
Neff ranked 26th in the state as a sophomore — posting a time of 22:21 — but she has not yet joined the Lady Indians during summer workouts.
“The Neffs have not been running with us yet,” Kohntopp said. “They are working on their ranch but will be back when school starts.”
The junior-laden talent continues with Alexis Castor, who placed 33rd at state during her sophomore season with a time of 23:46.
She was followed closely in 34th by then-sophomore, now-junior Karen Salazar’s time of 23:46.3.
Elko’s fifth through sixth runners are Kohntopp’s only seniors.
As juniors, Viviana Gavaldon (24:02.5), Marrisa Valdez (24:17.1) and Karissa Fadenrecht (25:30.5) crossed the line at the state meet in 36th, 41st and 46th, respectively.
Although Elko’s girls team suffered no losses to graduation, the girls who competed at state will have to once again earn their positions on the varsity roster each meet.
“Briana Cortez (junior) and Jersey Tsosie (sophomore) are running well. Jersey came out for cross country instead of volleyball and she is doing really well. She’s athletic, coachable and keeps up with some of our faster girls,” Kohntopp said. “I’m excited about three freshmen girls. Aylsia Carr — Savanna’s little sister — is already solid and consistent. I think Emma Smith and Chantal Cruz can potentially challenge for varsity spots.”
“We have a smaller group returning, but I want the kids to provide consistent results and constantly improve,” Kohntopp said. “For our younger kids, I hope they can push for those varsity spots and keep getting in better shape.”
As far as taking over the top of a program left behind by an Elko mainstay, Kohntopp’s philosophy remains simple.
“I just want to keep doing what Cody and I have been doing for the past 11 years,” she said.
Elko will open the 2019 season at 3 p.m. Aug. 23 during the Douglas Class Races, at Lampe Park, in Gardnerville.