NEW ULM - It's not uncommon for a cross country team to graduate a large number of seniors in a particular year. However, the usual understanding is that the team's numbers will replenish with younger runners the next year.
For this year's Minnesota Valley Lutheran cross country team, the second part of the equation didn't exactly come to fruition. After losing a number of strong runners from last year's team to graduation, the boys' team was left with only five runners competing this year, the minimum number needed to produce a full team score at a meet. The Charger girls have slightly better numbers than the boys, but both squads will be on the young side this year.
There will only be two seniors competing for MVL this year, both on the boys' side. Despite this fact, the two seniors - Caleb Grefe and Zack Scharlemann - are looking forward to taking on the big roles they will be asked to fill.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Minnesota Valley Lutheran cross country team members (from left) Zack Scharlemann, Talia Otto and Caleb Grefe will be the most experienced runners for the Chargers this season.
"I'm looking forward to being a leader of the team and getting to help coach new members," Grefe said. "It's a whole new experience not being one of the underclassmen, being the only two seniors in it this year."
Competing as part of such a small team will be a brand new feeling to both Grefe and Scharlemann.
"We've both been on cross country since we were freshmen, and this is the smallest team we've had so far," Scharlemann said.
Usually teams enter seven runners per meet and take just the five best times to count as the team score, but this year the Charger boys don't have that luxury.
"All five of us will be scored at every meet, so it really puts a lot more pressure on everybody to run well and to really train hard so that we're competing well as a team," Grefe said.
Rounding out the boys' team will be freshman Jacob Grefe, sophomore Peter Finken and junior Sam Bernau.
Although the MVL girls don't have a single senior this season, the team still returns plenty of experience. Junior Talia Otto will be looked upon to provide some leadership based on her wealth of experience.
"It's a lot different not having the older girls to lead you, but after having more years of experience it gets easier once you know the courses of the meets you're going to and how to practice," Otto said.
This year's Charger girls are all juniors and sophomores, with the team's roster consisting of juniors Otto, Samantha Kowalke, Emma Wendorff, Cheyenne Bjorkland, Brogan Flitter and Jessica Haag and sophomores Alexa Dierson, Brianna Holtmeier and Maria Muske.
The MVL boys and girls will both be led by first-year head coaches this season. Erin Leverence takes over coaching duties on the girls' side, with Charles Galecki handling the coaching duties on the boys' side. Leverence is a sophomore at Martin Luther College and Galecki is a junior at MLC.
"It's nice to have the new coaches, introducing new training styles," Otto said. "They know what they're doing. I think it's going to be a good year."
Despite having so few runners this year, Grefe and Scharlemann mentioned that the boys' team is very close. Although the MVL boys' prospects of progressing far in the postseason will be hindered by its lack of numbers, the team will focus on enjoying each new meet.
"We like to have fun at the meets more than other [teams], I think," Scharlemann said. "We're definitely kind of a hang-loose team."
For the girls to have a good chance of contending in the conference and the section, Otto knows from experience that it will be important to use the first couple of meets to ease into racing shape and then progress from there.
"You have to kind of get used to it," Otto said of getting into racing shape. "The first race, it's not always perfect, and then you get better as the season goes on, definitely."
MVL will open its competitive season at 4 p.m. on Tuesday with a meet at Mankato East.