As the sun begins to climb over the railroad tracks and lick the dew off the grass, Riley Witt stumbles the last few feet of his early-morning, three-mile-or-so run.
Panting, mask slipped off the end of his nose, last year’s conference champ turns around and cheers on his teammates as they run to join him.
Last season, the boys made school history for being the first cross country team to qualify for the state meet. Now, the Saints runners have “repeat” on their minds.
“We’re in a good spot to get back to state, but we’ve got to keep pushing each other.” said team captain Braden Powers. “Everybody is just building each other up —everybody wants to see each other succeed. So as long as we push ourselves, do our best and show some toughness, we should be in a good spot.”
Braden Powers completes a lap during practice. EJ photo/Travis Charlson
The girls’ squad has also set their sites on a state tourney berth, and have every intention of putting a banner of their own in the gym rafters at the end of the year.
“I’m glad to see how everybody has improved so much from last year, and I’m really excited for what [our] team has,” said girls team captain Ella Brown. “Every single person counts, so we all ned to take it upon ourselves to make the team better.”
Head coach Colin Zidlicky said he was wasn’t sure what this year’s squad would look like after losing some key seniors to graduation, but says the returning kids have stepped up to the challenge.
Ella Brown will be looking to help lead the girls team to a state appearance this season. EJ photo/Travis Charlson
“It should be a good season,” Zidlicky said. “Already, we’re a lot stronger at this point than we were last year.
“These students knew since March that there wouldn’t be a track season, so instead they started training for Cross Country. This length of preseason conditioning has allowed our official workouts to start at a high level.”
The team has also seen a slight uptick in numbers.
“We have a lot of new members that haven’t run a 5K before,” Powers said. “They didn’t really know what their goals should be. I had something in my mind, and they blew those times away. It’s really good to see everybody come out here and compete.”
The Saints head to Newman on September 1 for their first meet of the season, and look to start the process of building on last year’s success.
“The goal is to get both the girls and boys teams to state,” Zidlicky said.