An even better version
ADRIAN -- Loaded with depth and experience, both the Adrian Dragons girls' and boys' cross country teams appear to be even stronger than they were a year ago, when they both won Red Rock Conference and Section 3A titles.
Bringing back everyone off last year's state champion team, Adrian's girls -- who won every meet they competed in -- will be looking for a repeat performance this fall.
"Our girls have set a goal to get back to the state meet," head coach Doug Petersen said. "With everyone coming back, we are very capable of accomplishing that once again."
Returning as the team's ace runner is sophomore Morgan Lynn, who won the conference and section meets before placing third individually (second in team standings) at the state meet.
Seniors Megan Henning and McCall Heitkamp are also back, while sophomores Leslie Stover and Erica Thier return, as well, to the 17-member girls' team.
Eighth-graders Hailee Heitkamp and Natasha Slater also return, giving the Dragons six strong runners that work well together and will aim to get closer to Lynn this year.
"Morgan was our top runner all of last year, and the order almost always varied with the other six runners," Petersen said. "They get after each other and are pretty good pack runners."
Eighth-grader Abby Erlandson and seventh-grader Austyn Thier will add depth to the team, pushing the top seven in practices.
On the other side of things, Adrian's boys capped their banner season with an eighth-place finish at the state meet, and lose just three runners from that team, including all-conference performers Lee Stover and Brandon Bullerman.
"Our boys' team success last year was a pleasant surprise," Petersen said. "With the guys we have coming back and another year of maturity and hard work under their belts, we could be even better this year."
Leading the 18-member team this season will be senior Ethan Wieneke, who has logged plenty of miles over the summer and is looking to have a big season.
Fellow seniors Aaron Mormann and Dusty Lonneman bring their veteran talent to the team, as do juniors Jack Albertson and Jared Boltjes.
Freshmen Nate Reyne and Jordan Pater were consistently two of Adrian's top-seven runners last year and have looked sharp so far in practice this year.
Sophomores Brett Springman, Kyle Henning and Chris Reisdorfer are challenging for spots in the top seven, as are freshmen Luke Tiesler and Ross Wieneke.
"Our boys are so deep and experienced," Petersen said. "They've all put lots of miles on over the summer and will push each other to get better as the year progresses."
Last year's girls' conference runner-up also has its entire team coming back, as Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Odin will again look to challenge for top honors at the conference meet, which will be held at Mountain Lake this year.
The Wolverines capped a fine season last year by placing third in the section meet, and with the talent they have returning, they could crack into the top two and advance to the state meet.
"Our girls should be pretty solid," head coach Gary Hildebrandt said. "They're pushing each other in practice and we're excited about what they can do."
Four all-section performers, led by junior Bethany Nelson -- the team's lead runner for most of the past two seasons -- return from a year ago.
Freshmen Petra Nelson and Karen Herrig, along with sophomore Hannah Hildebrandt, also placed in the top 25 at the section meet last year.
Senior Heidi Hildebrandt has been leading the team in preseason workouts and returns with a lot of running savvy.
ML-B-O returns just one boys' letterwinner (junior Dima Bucklin) and will look to develop its younger athletes throughout the year.
The Wolverines have seven other runners out that will run in junior varsity and junior high races early in the season, and Hildebrandt hopes to field a full varsity team for the section meet.
Led by a strong corps of sophomores, Hills-Beaver Creek/Ellsworth/Edgerton is optimistic about the potential its boys have for a successful season.
Sophomores Halden Van Whye, Brent Kramer, Cody Penning, Dustin Verhey and Tyler Paulsen all return with valuable experience and will look to lead the Patriots again this year.
"These guys are still young, but they have a lot of ability and experience already," head coach Tom Goehle said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but there's definitely some potential with this group."
Senior Tom Scholten is also back, and several underclassmen are vying to replace John Sandbulte -- the team's only loss to graduation -- and crack the top-seven.
One of those athletes is senior Aaron Van Der Stoep from Ellsworth. A standout on the basketball court, Van Der Stoep is out for cross country for the first time this year, and Goehle says he is a great addition to the team.
The Patriot girls will be lead by seniors Mya Mann and Amanda Tilstra, each of whom also play volleyball.
"These two are great leaders for our team," Goehle said. "They put in the extra time and effort to contribute to both the cross country and volleyball teams in the fall."
Juniors Jill Weitgenant and Ashley Bucher will seek to record low place cards, as will sophomore Rayna Sandoval, freshman Heather Esselink and eighth-grader Courtney Hoogendoorn.
Murray County Central
Both Murray County Central Rebel squads, each with strong returning letterwinners, will aim for progression throughout the year.
Top-notch sophomore Laura Christensen -- who placed 16th in the state meet as an eighth-grader before injuries slowed her down last her -- will lead a young girls' squad.
"Our girls have some potential to be right there with the top teams," head coach Dominick Damm said. "If some of our younger runners step up, we'll be pretty solid."
Backing Laura Christensen up will be senior Sara Christensen and sophomore Erica Drealan, giving the Rebels a trio of candidates for low scores.
Sophomores Brooke Ackerman, Stephanie Janke and Cassie Gleis headline a list of underclassmen that will provide depth.
Senior Nate Ellens returns to lead the boys, who lose state-meet qualifier Anthony Drealan to graduation. Ellens finished 12th in the section meet a year ago and is looking good once again.
Seniors Taylor Steenstra joins juniors Chris Petersen, Stefan Swanson and Nathan Schroeder as potential leaders.
Sophomores Mitchell Hart and Mark Bau, a first-timer, lead a group of underclassmen who will also contribute for MCC.
A trio of two-time lettermen will lead the Southwestern United Wildcat boys, who lose Stephen Brunk (graduation) and Christopher Voit (transfer) from a year ago.
Cole Baumgard and Eldon Evans, a pair of juniors from Round Lake-Brewster, have experienced some success for the Wildcats and will be looked upon for leadership again this year.
"Cole and Eldon could have breakout years," head coach Les Knutson said. "They've had success in junior varsity races the last two years and could be close to the front in some varsity races this year."
Junior Brewer, a sophomore from Southwest Star Concept, has the potential to run with Baumgard and Evans.
Freshmen Heath Peter and Jared Pomerenke -- who both have enjoyed junior high success in the past -- and junior James Anderson -- who is out for cross country for the first time -- round out the list of Wildcat boys this fall.
The Wildcat girls should be improved this year, with seniors Whitney Pelzel (a five-year letterwinner) and Rachel Wilson providing leadership.
Freshman Martha Fonseca and eighth-grader Cassie Cselovszki are a pair of good, young runners that could challenge for top spots in some races.
"Cassie had a great season last year as just a seventh-grader," Knutson said. "She put in a lot of miles over the summer and is looking very smooth so far."
Seventh-grader Connor DeWall gives the Wildcats a fifth runner. She'll start out running in junior high races before helping the varsity later in the season.
With just six runners (four boys and two girls) competing this fall, Southwest Christian will be rebuilding.
Standouts Brent Van Schepen and Devin Van't Hof have graduated, but the boys bring back three lettermen that could finish in the upper-half in most races.
Juniors Ajuda Alwal and Ethan Spronk join sophomore Nicholas Pfeifle with experience. Junior Grant Vis joins the team for the first time this year.
Mary Buys (freshman) and Megan DeRuyter (seventh-grader) are the only girls out to start the season, and will look to improve each time they run.
Leading Westbrook-Walnut Grove/Red Rock Central this year will be three seniors (two girls and one boy), each striving to improve along with the rest of their Charger teammates.
Emily Eisfeld and Rocky Peterson-Wahl lead the five-member girls' squad, and Andy Helmer heads the eight-member boys' club.
Sophomore Emily Neperman, freshman Samantha Baker and seventh-grader Lindsey Asp are the other girls on the team.
Juniors Forrest Asp, Willy Spaeth and Shotaro Asano join freshman Angel Ruez and three junior high runners to round out the boys' team.