A youthful Central cross country team will kick off its fall season with the annual Alumni Run at Baylor Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Last season the girls’ team tied for third place in the conference but had to settle for fourth after a tiebreaker, and the boys team, which was hampered by a variety of health concerns at the meet, took seventh place in the Minnesota River Conference.
Five runners from that competitive girls’ team graduated this past spring, as did two boys, so this year’s squad will be looking to reinvent itself.
Head coach Mark Lagergren said that while the teams are young, there are some good signs going into the year.
“We’re young, we’re really young, but we’ll be in the mix for the conference,” he said.
The girls’ team consists of just 14 runners this fall, and 11 of those individuals are freshman or middle school age. Emma Schmidt, the team’s lone senior, did not run last year but is making a return to the sport. Junior Parry Larson was Central’s only all-conference performer last season, and will be a team leader. Larson is co-captain of the team along with newcomer Abbie Schnabel, a sophomore, and Schmidt.
“Schnabel did a lot of summer miles. She looks tough,” said Lagergren. “She’s a grinder, a hard worker.”
Freshmen April Feist, Beth George and Kayla Engelstad all ran for the varsity at last year’s conference meet, so they will not be intimidated by high school competition this year.
“Even though the girls are low in numbers, we’re competitive,” said Lagergren.
On the boys’ side, there’s no shortage of numbers, but many of the 30 runners do not have varsity experience, and 12 of those individuals are freshmen. Kyle Lamberton is the lone senior, and sophomore Alex Wischnack will likely be the team’s top runner. Those two individuals are serving as team captains for the boys, along with Josh Hendel.
“Kyle is the only senior and he’s kind of banged up. He’s been banged up since track, so we’ll see how he comes in,” said Lagergren. “Some of these younger guys ran 300 or 400 miles this summer. You put 400 miles in during a summer, that does pay back come competition. Alex Wischnack will be good; he’ll be tough for us. I think he’ll be our No. 1 runner. After that it gets really entertaining. Those top seven are going to keep swapping places.”
Other runners with some level of varsity seasoning are juniors Alex Kayser, Cole Sauter and Jonathan Braunwarth, sophomores Chase Heuer and Andrew Wischnack, and freshmen Ben Barth and Devan Dvorak.
With low numbers on the girls’ side and what could be a carousel of runners rotating through varsity lineup for the boys, Lagergren said it has been difficult to set goals for this season.
“We’ll just see how it goes. If I knew the top seven it would be different,” he said. “[The girls] have to stay healthy. In terms of the top seven [for the boys], we’ll find out Saturday. But honestly I don’t think the seven will ever stay the same. It’s going to be an interesting year.”
While the lineup isn’t exactly settled heading into this season, Lagergren dismissed the notion that the team is rebuilding.
“Some people might call this a building year. Well, every year is a building year. I don’t buy that,” he said. “It’s called graduation. We’ll be fine. We’re just young, but we’ll be in the mix for the conference.”
Looking around the MRC, Lagergren said that Mayer Lutheran, which won the conference last year, will be tough on the boys’ side, while Belle Plaine is likely the team to beat for the girls. Last season Watertown-Mayer won the girls’ conference, with Belle Plaine finishing second.
“Boys, we’ll be right smack in the middle. We’ll be a contender,” said Lagergren. “We have 12 freshmen, so our JV team will be pretty solid, which also means our varsity should be decent, but we’re young.”
As for the girls, “Belle Plaine will be tough, and the TCU pairing could make a difference girls-wise,” said Lagergren. “That will be interesting because Montgomery used to be pretty decent in cross country. Now you put Montgomery and LeCenter together, they’ll be interesting.”
One thing the Raiders have to build on going forward is a strong sense of camaraderie.
“[The kids] like each other, and they’re very much a team,” said Lagergren. “Cross country is an individual sport, but they’re very much a team. And they work hard. They’ll go at it. I’m not too concerned these first couple of meets, but hopefully by conference we’re ready to go.”