State wounds slow to heal
The time that's passed since the cross country state championship has done little to dull the nerves of De Soto coach Chris McAfee.
While some things have come more into focus -- he said even at its best, the girls team likely would have finished a step behind state champ Baldwin -- others continue to play over and over in his head.
"There were things I wish I had done differently in planning for the state meet," McAfee said. "The bottom line is good teams and good coaches are prepared to go on the day of the state meet and I didn't have my kids prepared to go."
The good news for McAfee and the Wildcats, beneath the ringing questions and lingering disappointment of state lies a great season, and beyond the loss of a handful of key leaders lies a future as bright as can be imagined.
The De Soto girls were second at state and the boys third. Six of the seven girls who ran at state were underclassmen -- four freshmen and two sophomores. Five of the seven state boys will return, as well.
"We bring back a lot of young girls, and I feel good about them," McAfee said. "It's the right kind of group. They'll learn, get more experience during track season and that will help a ton."
The girls battled with a freshmen-heavy squad in 2007, something that became more obvious as the season began to wear on.
Only two runners from 2006's state championship team graduated. Injuries helped force a rearranging of the team anyway. Still, senior Chesney Burgweger remained the team's core and classmate Trish Roberts, who missed the season's final races with an injury, stayed close as well.
"One thing that speaks volumes is after regionals, before (assistant coach Chad Brecheisen) or I could even talk to the girls as a group, Trish had them over there circled up talking to them," McAfee said. "By Monday they had already forgotten about it and were getting ready for state. That says a lot about the influence of Trish and the influence of Trish and Chesney on the rest of the team.
"They know you have good days and bad days, but you have to keep going and they were able to communicate that to the other girls. That was pretty important to the entire team."
It's the freshmen and sophomores that make prognosticators don sunglasses while looking to the future.
De Soto's top finisher at state was freshman Lacey Erickson, who was 10th. It's top runner through most of the season was sophomore Carly Stanley, who already had top-10 state finish on her resume.
Freshman Hannah Jokisch spent most of the season running junior varsity and still managed to finish 26th at state. Freshmen Shelbi Petty and Beth Reichenberger weren't far behind.
Sophomore Maddy Frehe was 33rd despite racing with a stress fracture in her foot.
The Cats also raced at state without one of their stars from earlier in the season, freshman Elli Sheridan.
Figure in the experience the entire team gained this season, a talented and experienced junior varsity squad, a new class of freshmen and nine months of training preparing for track and cross country, and there is a whole lot to look forward to.
"Hopefully all those girls come back out next year and now they'll have experience running at the state meet," McAfee said. "That helps out a ton. It will be nice to have that next year."
The story's similar for the boys, though the team relied a little more on its seniors for scoring support in 2007 -- Lucas Slater finished 12th at state to medal, and Jerin Riffel just missing in 26th place.
"Neither Lucas or Jerin are super vocal people, but they both stepped up to vocalize some things this year about staying calm and confident and about where we were," McAfee said. "It was two guys that had an outstanding attitude and work ethic and they set an outstanding example."
Again, the Cats say goodbye to 2007 with an eager eye to the future.
The team's top state finisher, Cristian Dozier, is just a sophomore, finishing ninth at state despite skipping most of the team's summer workouts and going out for the sport for the first time this season.
Junior Colin Jokisch didn't have his best day at state, but proved during track last season he'd be a force and backed it up as one of the team's top runners throughout the cross country season.
All the way to the bottom of the varsity roster -- sophomores Austin Hinchey and Ry Patton and junior Trey Lind -- the Cats improved in 2007 and have the promise to do so again in 2008.
"Look at Trey and Hinchey and Ry and Ben Burgweger -- those are great guys that trained their tailends off over the last year," McAfee said. "Those are guys that worked extremely hard over the last year. Even during the track season we trained them with cross country in mind.
"Obviously it paid off in the huge improvements they made."
The highlight of the season was winning the Frontier League title for the first time. The boys went on to finish third at state, behind champ Mulvane and Baldwin.
"We're chasing Mulvane. Had everyone run their best I think we could have been within 10 or 15 points of them and feeling like we have a shot next year," McAfee said. "Now, looking ahead, they're the team to beat and it'll be fun trying to chase them down."