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Youth is an advantage for the Lightning

Liberty High boys cross country preview

NORTH LIBERTY– Often when coaches discuss their team ahead of any given season, a “young” team is considered a disadvantage due to a lack of experience, particularly in varsity competition. Josh Hildebrand, head coach for Liberty High’s boys cross country, sees having a “young” squad as a strength.
Liberty fielded a varsity team last year and sent Peter Woodward to the 2017 Class 3A state meet, where he finished 17th as a sophomore. The team consisted of five freshmen, a sophomore (Woodward) and a junior (Dylan Schmidt). The 2018 edition of the Lightning Bolts features Schmidt, now the team’s only senior, and sophomores Jack Kinzer, Caleb Schillinger and Spencer Knight. Other veterans in the lineup include juniors Henry Krain and Nick Moore, along with sophomores Gavin Hayes and Gaven Forbes.
Hilldebrand says 13 freshmen are on the 28-man roster, including Ethan and Gavin Keeney, Jack Abel and Logan Nelson, “to name a few.”
“I think that our youth could be viewed as a strength. They are really helping to build a new tradition from the ground up,” Hilldebrand said. There’s a bond, he said, as the squad mates are always together in multiple sports, clubs and work. “Their bond is pretty strong and they will work hard to make sure they don’t let each other down.” Several “Bolts” were able to train not only in Iowa this summer, but also in the higher altitudes of Colorado (where the air is thinner with a lower oxygen concentration). “The senior leadership we have from Dylan Schmidt is second to none,” Hilldebrand said.
“Obviously our youth could be viewed as a negative, but these young men have never backed down from any challenges yet and are always smiling and having fun,” the coach noted. The biggest challenge he sees in his and the program’s second year, is moving from Class 3A up to Class 4A and joining the Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC). Last year, Liberty was unaffiliated with any athletic conference and competed wherever it could. Hilldebrand welcomes those challenges, however.
“Most of our team has not raced in those types of meets with 200-300 runners in their races. It will be a bit different than some of the smaller meets we competed in last year,” he said.
The MVC is typically considered a powerhouse conference, regardless of the season, with large metro schools such as Iowa City West, City High and Cedar Rapids schools. “The MVC is very well represented in the preseason 4A rankings with nine teams ranked in the top-20, not to mention the typical powerhouses Cedar Rapids Xavier and Dubuque Wahlert in 3A. We’d love to get in there and knock a few of those schools off at the end of the season,” Hildebrand said.
Nate Canton and Nicholas Borchert will assist Hilldebrand, a former assistant coach at City High, again this season.
“It has been, and continues to be, an exciting time in Liberty athletics,” Hilldebrand said.
The season opens on Thursday, Aug. 23, at the University of Iowa’s Ashton Cross Country Course with Iowa City West High’s Early Bird Meet at 5:20 p.m. The Bolts will run in Regina’s Bob Brown Invitational at the Kickers Soccer Park (4400 Soccer Park Rd.) on Thursday, Aug. 30.