Never in Dena Kelly's 11 years at Heights coaching cross country has there been a single-digit turnout for the girls team.
When only five turned up for practice this year, it took some adjusting on Kelly's part.
"It's been a struggle for me mentally," Kelly said. "It's taught me not to worry so much about what my numbers are and to really focus on what I've got. We don't have many, but the girls that I do have are really hard-workers."
Success won't come by team titles or individual wins, but the Falcons have been pleased with their individual improvements. Last week at the Winfield Invitational, junior Ashea Hanna and freshman Brianna Lee cut their season-best times down by more than a minute with their finishes of 17 minutes, 16 seconds and 17:34.
Kelly is optimistic those two will have opportunities to qualify as individuals for the state meet. But she is disappointed it's only those two to support three seniors — Haley Geer, Genai George and Samantha Tilson — who have run four years.
The drop in numbers, Kelly suspects, is due to girls switching fall sports.
"It's been really difficult for all of us, really," Kelly said. "I think we started to really overcome that and we're all focusing on each other and not worried about our numbers."
Heights has a full squad for its boys team, but is still learning with mostly underclassmen. The team is led by seniors Anthony Shaw and Larry Kelley.
The Falcons will run at the Salina Invitational this Saturday.
"We're still in the learning process," Kelly said. "One week they'll go out too slow and get stuck in the back, then the next week they'll go out too fast."
So you're saying there's a chance — When South coach Belinda Tummons looks at the teams in South's Class 6A regional, she sees an opportunity for her boys team.
"On any given day, it's going to be who's psyched up and who's psyched out," Tummons said. "There's a chance for us; we're just going to have to run our best race of the year."
The Titans have been competitive, highlighted by their fourth-place finish at the Winfield Invitational last week. The team's top runners this season have been John Castellaw, Jacob Chamberlin and Bernardo Miranda.
The girls team might have a chance to send a pair of runners to state in sophomore Jasmine Mayorga and Serena Cisneroz.
"My girls have been running better when it's cool outside," Tummons said. "As long as it stays cool, they might surprise some people. I don't think they realize their potential yet."
Title run — Two years ago, the Derby girls team won the Class 6A championship. There are similarities in that team and the one this year to coach Eldon Edwards.
"I'm really encouraged," Edwards said. "I guess the question is can we step up to the competition when it counts the most?"
The top four on the team certainly have. Last week at the Junction City Invitational, Emily Hornbeck, Amber Green, Kaittlin Cabrin and Valerie Nielson were under 16:11.
Derby will run in an ultra-competitive El Dorado Invitational on Saturday.
"Now our test is to try to get those four to keep running at a high level and maybe even better and then to close the gap between them and our fifth runner," Edwards said.