The graduation of several runners on both teams left Maize cross country coach Skeeter Rankins knowing they would undergo a transformation over the summer.
Rankins was aware of a talented freshman class, but knew how unpredictable first-year runners can be.
After three meets, five freshmen boys and girls have contributed for the Eagles. Both teams have been competitive, so consider it a success.
"I've had more fun so far this year than I did all of last year," Rankins said. "We've got better personality this year. We have better leadership this year and the personalities just mesh better."
The boys team had three good options to work with in Ryan Hopkins, Eli Ybarra and Brooks Rummery. But injuries have slowed Ybarra and Rummery.
Stepping in have been freshmen Jason Costello and Jake Omo.
"I was very cautiously optimistic about the boys with what I had seen develop over the summer," Rankins said. "Hopefully we can get healthy before league rolls around."
The impact of freshmen is more common on the girls' side, where Alexis Loudermilk stepped in as the team's top runner right away. Twins Sydney and Shea Roy have also been on varsity.
Rankins is excited by the upside of the girls team, but being competitive after the first three runners will be a challenge.
"We're going to have to do it by pack," Rankins said. "Those four, five, six and seven runners should be in the top 45. But how far they can move up, that's the question."
Don't tread on me — The title "defending state champion" still comes attached to the name of Valley Center sophomore Morgan Wedekind.
While Wedekind hasn't necessarily flown under the radar through the first three weeks of the season, the Hornets as a team certainly have. Wedekind has only run one 4-kilometer race so far, a 15:52 at the Wellington Invitational.
"We've gone to these three relatively low-profile meets," coach Lonnie Thiessen said. "We feel like we don't have to have every single meet be a high-profile meet, so we can focus more on our training and not have to gear up for big meets."
Wedekind's first opportunity to remind people she is the defending Class 4A champion comes this weekend at Rim Rock near Lawrence, where she will run in the Crimson race against North's Amber Eichkorn, Bishop Carroll's Kaelyn Balch and Kapaun Mount Carmel's Mackenzie Maki, among others.
"We'd just rather take it a little cautious to start the season," Thiessen said. "Rim Rock will be a challenge for her, but we still have five weeks until the state meet to improve things if they don't go like we would like."
First-timer — Before this season, Southeast junior Sterlin Broomfield had never medaled in a varsity race. After the first three meets, he has collected three top-10 finishes.
"I don't think he was totally surprised by it," Southeast coach Rob Maddux said. "Everybody else was really impressed, though."
Maddux said his endurance has rocketed up after a summer full of training. The longer the race, the better, according to Maddux.
"I think if the kid ran a 10K race in our state, he would probably be in the top five," Maddux said. "The longer we go in practice, he can always maintain the same pace. He can carry out the same tempo you would set for a three-mile run over the course of seven miles."