Johnson, Wilbert, Young lead Cat runners
Last season, Chris McAfee's girls cross country team set the bar by winning the Kaw Valley league meet and going to state. If they fall short of those achievements this season, McAfee said he would be disappointed.
The Wildcats aren't looking to keep the bar where it is. They want to raise it some more and make things happen.
"I feel that we can win league and return to state," McAfee said. "But we do have some girls who have to get used to new roles on the team and understand what they need to do for us to be successful. If we work our tails off and improve, I will be happy. But I think we have a long way to go before we get there."
The girls return five of their top six varsity runners who played roles in the conference championship, a runner-up finish at regionals, and an 11th-place finish at state. That kind of depth will be a strength for the Wildcats this season.
Oddly, however, McAfee said one of his team's weaknesses was the fact that it won the league title a year ago.
"We don't have the same hungry attitude and desire that we had last year," McAfee said. "If we don't snap out of that, we will finish fourth in our league and miss the state championships."
Leading the way for the Wildcats this season will be a pair of sophomores. Carrie Wilbert and Andrea Young earned valuable experience a year ago. Now they want to turn it up a notch.
McAfee said Wilbert had as much talent as anyone in the state.
"The key for her is going to be to develop some mental toughness," he said. "Last year she was learning a lot about herself as a runner. Now she is putting that knowledge to work, and I think there will be dramatic improvement for her this year."
In Young, McAfee saw a tremendous amount of talent and mental toughness. But her weakness stemmed from a lack of self-motivation.
"If she can stay motivated all season, she can be one of the top runners in the state," he said.
Junior Sarah Jokisch is also a returning league medalist from a year ago, and if the Wildcats are to equal or improve on last season, she will have to maintain that level.
Juniors Melissa Roberts and Katie James both missed league medals last season. But McAfee said both athletes had a tremendous amount of desire and were potential league medalists this year.
For the boys, junior Casey Johnson is the lone state medalist of a year ago. This season, McAfee said he thought Johnson would show what he's truly capable of for the first time.
"I think he has the ability to be one of the top runners in our league and the state," McAfee said. "The key for him is going to be getting the most out of his workouts and to push himself to find his limits."
Sophomore Alex Wayne, whom McAfee called a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats last season, and junior Adam Wilcox hopes to improve after battling through a leaning year last season.
Newcomer Donnie Gardner, a junior who played football a year ago, was a tremendous find for the Wildcats. McAfee got a preview of what Gardner could do last spring when he ran the 3,200-meter run.
"I think he is going to be one of the top runners in the league and has a chance to be a state medalist," McAfee said. "He runs with Casey in nearly every workout, so you can see why I'm excited."
Newcomers expected to add depth for the Wildcats are senior Chris Peterson and freshmen Tanner McNamara and Matt Woywod.
With the runners he has returning from a year ago and the mix of newcomers at his disposal, McAfee said he had the makings of a good team.
"I would be pleased if we placed near the top in some meets," McAfee said, "and were in contention for league and state. If we improve during the season and can truly say we gave it all we had, then I will be happy with our season regardless of the outcome."