Title defense a daunting task for new-look Cats
The De Soto girls cross country team has spent the last year coming to terms with being Class 4A's state champion.
Now De Soto coach Chris McAfee said he's hoping the squad can remember what all it took to make that a reality. Ten months after knocking defending champion Baldwin off its gold medal perch, the Wildcats are sharpening up for another season.
So far, McAfee said, it's been different. Not better and not worse. Just different.
"I really don't know how good we'll be," said McAfee Monday as his team fought through a grueling practice. "We definitely have potential. The goal now is to do something with that potential."
It's not all just potential, however, assuming potential is skill that still needs proving.
De Soto lost two members from a team that relied on all seven of its runners to win the state championship. But five from the state squad return, a group led by sophomore Carly Stanley.
Stanley capped her freshman cross country season by leading the team across the state course, finishing seventh in the race and one spot ahead of graduated senior Lauren Karnitz.
Senior Chesney Burgweger was 28th at state and will return, as will her classmate, Trisha Roberts, who was 35th.
The most experienced Cats still in the fold, they'll play a key role in decided whether De Soto can score low enough to make it a championship streak.
"Chesney's struggling a little early in practice, but she did that last year, too, and she was fine. She'll be alright," McAfee said. "Trish has looked awesome."
Their role off the course could be at least as valuable, and maybe even more so. In Karnitz and Morgan Frehe, this years team not only needs to replace two of its top three runners, but its motivating engines as well.
Frehe, who split her time between cheerleading and running, rarely put the pep away, and Karnitz offered a steady hand. Together alone weren't exactly key, McAfee said. Rather they were a large part of the glue that held everything together.
"We could coach for 20 more years and win 20 more state championships and we won't have another team that was as easy as that one," assistant Chad Brecheisen said. "Chemistry is more important that anything."
Almost lost amidst the girls' championship was a great season by the De Soto boys.
The boys finished third at state last year, their highest every finish. There again McAfee said he wasn't as worried about finding the right quality of runners, rather whether or not that invisible bond that helped the team a year ago would form again.
The boys also graduated two of their top three runners in Tanner McNamara -- 13th at state -- and Chris Dvoark -- 29th. The team's sixth finisher, Matt Woywod, also graduated.
Junior Colin Jokisch may be making a strong statement about who's going to step up to replace them. Jokisch ran alone Monday, carrying on long after most of his teammates despite raining sweat with his every step.
Jokisch was 48th at state a year ago, De Soto's fifth finisher.
"Colin is in very, very good shape," McAfee said.
Finishing ahead of Jokisch last year were Lucas Slater and Jerin Riffel, both seniors this season, and along with Jokisch, both equally critical to this season's success, McAfee said.
After that, the team will be short on state and varsity experience.
"I forget sometimes the bulk of our boys team will be sophomores," McAfee said. "They will have to go through it and learn what it takes. Last year we had a veteran group, but this year we have a young group."