SLEEPY EYE - Last season, Kari Schumacher and the rest of the St. Mary's/Sleepy Eye/New Ulm Cathedral girls' cross country team proved to be a dominant force in the Tomahawk Conference, taking home the conference team title.
However, this year Schumacher - the two-time defending individual conference champion - will be competing under very different circumstances. With the team having graduated three important seniors from last year's team, Schumacher returns not only as the sole senior on the girls' side, but also as the only high schooler.
Youth will be a major factor for both the SM/SE/NUC girls' and boys' teams this year, with only two seniors on both rosters combined and no juniors.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Kari Schumacher (left) and Brandon Roiger return as the only two seniors for the St. Mary’s/Sleepy Eye/New Ulm Cathedral cross country team this season.
"It's a young team, there's two seniors and everybody's sophomores and younger, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out, but it should be good," Schumacher said.
Joining Schumacher on the girls' side will be four eighth graders - Megan DeMaris, Angie Kiecker, Mary Joyce and Jenny Lax.
DeMaris was named All-Conference last year and Kiecker was also a member of the conference champion team, so combined with Schumacher's five years of experience the team still possesses enough talent to make a run at another conference title. However, a key will be for everyone on the team to remain healthy, since five is the minimum number of runners needed to field a full team at a meet.
"Our girls may have a shot at the conference championship if we can keep all these people healthy, that will be a plus for us, and we're just looking to have a positive experience and grow through the process," head coach Scott DeMaris said.
The three seniors that graduated last year from the girls' team were Jessica Busch, Amanda Goblirsch and Anna Ibberson. Busch and Goblirsch earned All-Conference honors last season.
The boys' team this year is led by senior Brandon Roiger, who has been on the team since he was in eighth grade. Despite Roiger being the only upperclassman on the team, the rest of the lineup still contains a fair amount of experience.
Sophomores Stephen Joyce and Ezra Krzmarzick were letterwinners last year for SM/SE/NUC, with Roiger and Joyce forming a close one-two punch to lead the team last season. Freshman Zach Long also lettered last year and will spend his first full year on varsity this season.
Rounding out the roster on the boys' side are sophomore Nick DeMaris and seventh grader Truman Pipperet.
The team lost only one senior from last year in Michael Sprenger.
"It's a young team and I'm kind of scared how it will turn out, but I'm pretty confident how the future years will look," Roiger said. "[Coach DeMaris] has this way of getting more kids to show up and go out for cross country, so hopefully more kids will start to join and stick with cross country."
Although neither team currently has a lot of runners, both are still accepting new members. Coach DeMaris notes that a benefit of participating in the sport of cross country is that everyone is given an equal opportunity to compete no matter their current ability.
"We obviously want more kids out and give them an opportunity to be involved with something where they're going to get plenty of playing time," Coach DeMaris said. "Sometimes that's in issue in sports, but it's never an issue for us, so everyone this year will get plenty of playing time."
Cross country certainly isn't a sport that appeals to everybody, but Roiger is hoping that more young kids try it to see if they will become attached to the sport in the same way that he has.
"I guess you just have to work hard the first year that you start - I started in eighth grade - and you've just kind of got to know if you're going to do it up until your senior year," Roiger said. "I saw myself sticking with it and I just kept going with it, and that's hopefully something all the younger kids will do too and then tell their friends, and hopefully they'll stick with it with them."
Schumacher noted that the ability to thrive in cross country is as much to do with mental strength as physical strength.
"You have to have a really positive mental attitude," Schumacher said. "It's physical work, but it's a lot of mental, you have to have it in your head that you can do this, because if you don't have that kind of mindset you're not going to go anywhere."
The team isn't going to saddle itself with performance goals at the beginning of the season, with the main goal just to improve at each meet.
"We're going to try to take that first meet basically almost as a scrimmage, then we're just going to try to improve," Coach DeMaris said. "We're not going to be a real strong team when you look at section meets and stuff, but we're going to just try to be the best we can, be as competitive as we can, beat whatever teams we can beat here and there."
However, Schumacher is hoping to finish her high school career with a state tournament appearance after missing out on qualifying for state by a couple of spots two year ago.
"I'm hoping to go to state this year because I missed it a couple years back, but we'll see how it goes," Schumacher said.
A season highlight that both Schumacher and Roiger are looking forward to is the Milaca Mega Meet, a meet with close to 2,000 participating runners, which will be held in Milaca on Sept. 22.
SM/SE/NUC opens the season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with a meet at St. James.