Clayton Whitehead may have graduated, but last year’s state runner-up is still making an impact for the Carthage High School cross country program.

“Clayton led by example and it’s carried over to this year,” Tigers coach Andy Youngworth said. “The guys have embraced the work ethic and leadership that Clayton presented.”

After capturing conference, district and sectional titles in 2018, Whitehead has taken his talents to South Dakota. Although that's a large hole to fill in the lineup, the Tigers will feature a number of experienced runners this fall.

“We’ve got a lot of good returners who have a lot of experience,” Youngworth said. “On the boys side, we’re a senior and junior-dominated team and that’s what you like. We’ve got some depth. And we’ve got a competitive group that works hard.”

Senior Noah Talamantez is the lone returning state qualifier for the Carthage boys. In 2018, Talamantez finished 11th at the conference meet, 12th at the district meet, 19th at the sectional and 146th at state. This year, he'll be expected to lead the way.

“Noah should have a really good year for us,” Youngworth noted. “He’s looked good so far.”

Youngworth also expects senior Anderson Ixcol, junior Malcolm Robertson and sophomore Mariques Strickland to contribute nicely. The other varsity positions are still up for grabs, with as many as 14 athletes competing for the final spots.

The Carthage girls will be led by the senior duo of Jenari Lopez and Jazuri Lopez.

“They don’t run year-round because they’re really good soccer players in the spring, but the Lopez twins have really worked hard over the summer,” Youngworth said. “They’re both talented young ladies.”

Jenari Lopez finished fifth at last year’s COC meet, 12th at the district meet, 21st at the sectional and 96th at state. Jazuri Lopez took 20th at the conference meet and was a sectional qualifier after finishing 27th at the district meet.

Senior Samantha Benhumea and junior Lauren Wilson are expected to be the team's No. 3 and No. 4 runners this fall.

“Our depth isn’t great on the girls side, so we can’t afford any injuries,” Youngworth noted.

The Tigers will compete at this Saturday's SWCCCA meet in Bolivar.

Youngworth expects another solid season for his Tigers.

“We’ve done some good things so far and we’re looking forward to getting into the regular part of the schedule,” Youngworth said.

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