When Watertown-Mayer High School cross country coach Rich Winter looks at his team this year, there are a lot of familiar faces missing.
Gone is four-time state qualifier Hannah Johnson, a six-year varsity runner. Gone too, are the Fails twins, Casey and Caleb, also longtime varsity runners. Casey was an all-conference honoree last year with a ninth-place finish, and Caleb just missed honorable mention honors with a 13th place finish.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Royals also lost experienced and veteran runners like Jay Boerner, Kaila Anderson and Laura Hertzog to graduation as well.
“You can already tell it’s different,” Winter said. “Those people were here for so long that you just kind of expect them to be here.”
Fortunately for Winter, he has plenty of talented runners to fill their shoes, particularly on the girls’ side, where a number of runners return with a year or more of varsity experience. That group is led by Liz Miller, who as a senior who will be looking for her third consecutive trip to the state meet this year.
But the Royals have plenty of other runners returning on the girls’ side as well. Though many of them battled injuries last year, runners like senior Erin Sonderup-Hohenstein, junior Anna Phearman, sophomore Lydia Fails, and freshmen Kirstin Klitzke and Abby Hules all return with varsity experience of varying degrees.
“That’s a plus for the girls, is that if they don’t get hurt, we have a lot of experience,” Winter said. “The girls’ should be OK.”
The boys’ team will have a few more questions to answer this year after losing roughly half its regular varsity lineup. Key returnees this year include junior Michael Burns, an honorable-mention all-conference runner last year after finishing 12th in the Minnesota River Conference meet, as well as seniors Ethan Thonn and Josh Oak and junior Jon Vouk. Freshman Austin Wandersee and sophomore Wyatt Tatge also return with some varsity experience.
“The boys are a little more of a question mark, just because they have so much to replace,” Winter said.
Watertown-Mayer was scheduled to open its season with a scrimmage Monday at Norwood Young America, but it was cancelled because of the heat. Instead, the team will open with an invitational hosted by Maple Lake at Ney Park on Friday, Aug. 30, at 9 a.m.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]