They searched for days, but no answer could be found to explain why the last El Dorado boys cross country season ended the way it did.
El Dorado was ranked entering regionals, but unraveled in the week leading up. The top three runners — Casey Nightengale (flu), Dale Nuckolls (back injury) and Michael Riedl (flu) —were limited because of illness or injury.
The Wildcats finished nine points short of qualifying their team to state.
"Seeing those seniors that didn't make it, I remember that day feeling terrible for them," Nuckolls said. "It affected us for awhile. We couldn't get it off our minds."
The team concluded that acceptance was best moving forward. They re-dedicated themselves to train harder for track season.
"There were no easy days," Nuckolls said. "When we would go run, we knew we had to make up for what happened in cross country."
Everything culminated at the state track meet in the Class 4A 3200-meter relay. Nightengale erased a 15-meter deficit in the final 100 meters to deliver a victory that breathed new life into the El Dorado distance runners.
"He didn't really know what he had in him until after that race," Nuckolls said. "We've been so much better since winning that race. Casey especially has a new confidence about himself."
Nightengale and Nuckolls, both seniors, will be the foundation of the Wildcats this season. Michael Riedl provides a solid third option, but for a good team score El Dorado has to find production from Sam Haines, Michael Bradley, Donavan Whitfield and John Scott.
"This being the seniors' last chance, it would be special if we get to go (to state)," coach Ron Koppenhaver said. "We're certainly aiming for that and they're working real hard to get it done."
But the prospects of this season were set in motion by the attitudes of these seniors after last fall.
"I just had to accept it for what it was," Nightengale said. "I just got sick at the wrong time. It was tough to take, but I had to move on."
It's hard imagining another fluke illness, but the two might take some precautionary measures in their final season, which begins Saturday at the J.K. Gold Classic.
"Definitely get some flu shots or something," Nuckolls said. "Just to make sure."