High hopes, questions linger with runners
Listen to De Soto cross country coach Chris McAfee, and one might think his girls team is doomed.
The team needs to find itself. It needs motivation. The team's prominent personalities need to work together and everyone needs to help make up for last season's disappointing finish, he said.
"I'm a little bit nervous about it," he admitted as his team geared up for its second day of practice Tuesday.
But before De Soto's powerful reign atop the cross country rankings is decreed over, one must realize the Wildcats' bar is just a bit higher than most.
Returning all but two varsity runners after De Soto's second state appearance in the last three years, expectations are high that the Wildcats will be back in Wamego for the third time in four years.
If everything works, McAfee said.
"What we should be able to accomplish talent wise is established," he said. "But what we'll achieve, I don't know."
"They have to decide what their goals are for the year. If they set their goals high, they can achieve those, but this is also going to be a team that might fall apart."
No matter how high the team sets its goal, it has the horses to make it possible.
Junior Morgan Frehe is the top returning runner. She finished 22nd in last year's state meet, and finished eighth in the 3200-meter run in track.
A dedicated summer workout regime has McAfee convinced a top-five finish is possible. With a new dose of confidence, Frehe agreed.
"I need to be very confident in my race, knowing I can finish high," she said. "I didn't realize how good I was compared to the other girls last year."
Frehe was the only Wildcat to finish under 13 minutes at state, but seniors Lauren Karnitz and Andrea Young picked up valuable experience in the meet, as did sophomore Trish Roberts.
Despite the lingering questions, McAfee pointed out the group's talent.
"There's two girls gone off that team, but we have everyone else coming back," he said. "We should still be pretty good."
Realizing talent may be the key for the boys team as well.
Gone is Casey Johnson, who finished third at state last year, but there is talent to fill his spot on the roster.
Junior Tanner McNamara is the top runner back after finishing 38th in last year's meet, but the difference this year might come from the inexperienced Adam Justice and Lucas Slater.
Justice, an 800 meter specialist in track, played soccer his freshman and sophomore seasons. This year, he's decided to split his loyalties.
Slater meanwhile went out for cross country his freshman season, but was sidelined because of a stress fracture after just one meet. While similar injury has kept him down over the summer, McAfee said he hoped the pair of fresh faces could make a difference.
With McNamara, senior team leader Alex Wayne, a dedicated Justice and a healthy Slater, the Wildcats should threaten to return to state.
"We may not have another kid like (Johnson) this year, but we may have four or five guys in the top 30 or 40," McAfee said. "That's a really strong nucleus and we'll score really well with that."