By MATT STEICHENfirstname.lastname@example.org
Frontrunner Isaac VanProosdy will be tough to replace, but six other letterwinners are back for the Austin High boys cross country team.
VanProosdy led the Packers throughout last fall, consistently running in the 17-minute range for 5,000 meters. Pacing the Pack this time around will likely be junior Kyle Dammen, senior Brad Weiss and sophomore Tim Erickson. Dammen broke 18 minutes in six of the last seven meets last fall, and Weiss and Erickson were consistent scorers in the middle of the varsity lineup. Erickson is coming off a strong track season where he improved steadily and reached 2:01 in the 800 meters.
“We're still young. We were young last year and we're still gaining the experience we need now,” 11th-year Austin head coach Tony Einertson said. “Brad, Kevin and Kyle have been in the system for a while now and all three had wonderful summers. They put in a lot of miles and did the work they needed to do. It's their time to step forward and see what they can do.”
Also back with another year of experience are senior Dan Donovan, Kevin Dammen and Ben Bachmeier. First-year senior Thomas Gerber and first-year sophomore Chris Folken could also challenge for varsity spots, according to Einertson.
On the girls side, the Packers will have to replace three of their top runners from a year ago.
Katelyn Kieffer led the team at several meets last fall and has since moved to Germany. Her top challenger at the front of the pack, Sigin Ojulo, will be playing volleyball this year, and Most Valuable award winner Abbey Eckhoff was lost to graduation after an injury-plagued senior year.
Three seniors are around to lead a group of 10 athletes on this year's team. Megan Groh, a four-year cross country runner, ran the 3,200 for the Packer track team this spring, Alex Rauch ran the 1,600 and 800 and Sarah Chao was active in recruiting large groups of teammates for training runs this summer.
Back from last year's team is Laura Thompson, who provided counting scores at the Big Nine meet and at sections.
Katelyn Harder is another likely candidate to fill the varsity lineup after being named Most Improved last season as an eighth grader. Seventh grader Haley Splinter could also be a factor after winning several races as a sixth grader.