NEW ULM - After getting beaten out for the Tomahawk Conference title last year, the Minnesota Valley Lutheran girl's cross-country team is hoping to recapture its crown.
The boy's team benefits from having not lost anybody, allowing a mix of newcomers and veterans to try and improve times from last season.
"Last year - first year for a lot of us - we didn't really know what to expect," said coach Nicole Lehman, who is going into her second year at MVL. "This year we're hoping to see improvement from last year and working better as a team to get those team scores up. Individually, [I'm hoping to see] each of them improving each meet and doing the best they can and, hopefully, taking conference if we can and getting some of our runners to state."
Members of the 2014 Minnesota Valley Lutheran Cross-Country team are as follows (l-r): Brianna Holtmeier, Jacob Grefe, Alexa Diersen, Levi Stelljes, Maria Muske.
MVL had some setbacks at the Section 2A meet with its girl's team finishing 16th out of 19 teams and boy's team finishing 19th out of 20.
But the girl's team returns seniors Alexa Diersen and Brianna Holtmeier, who will provide guidance to the younger runners who are not as seasoned as they are. Having that experience is crucial for helping the young runners progress through races.
"If you're on a long run and it seems like you've been running forever, it's good to remind them that it won't last forever, there is a finish line and when you're done, you'll feel very confident that you can do it again," Holtmeier said.
The upperclassmen are doing what they can to pick up the slack after the departures of Cheyenne Bjorklund and Talia Otto, who were two of the Chargers' regular point scorers as seniors last year.
"We have to step up," Diersen said. "We have a lot of incoming people who can definitely take last year's seniors' spots."
One of those incoming runners is Ruthie Rider, a freshman who transferred from Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop. She competed as a long-distance runner deep into the track season last spring as an eighth-grader and will likely provide good miles for the Chargers this year.
"She's super fast and she doesn't complain at all," Holtmeier said of Rider. "She just keeps on going."
The boy's team has a new runner in Brandon Steffl, who is a staple on the MVL track and field's long-distance team.
For Steffl, competing in cross-country is a good way to stay in shape for track especially with how much the two sports go hand in hand.
"I've always been encouraged to go running to stay in shape," Steffl said. "I've always enjoyed it. I want to improve how fast I can run."
Steffl will join returning veterans Levi Stelljes, Jacob Grefe, Kyle Buch and Callahan Diersen, all of whom scored points for the boy's team at last year's section meet.
MVL begins its season with a 4 p.m. meet on Aug. 26 at Mankato East.