Two stalwarts and a batch of freshmen carry the burden.
The Blair Oaks Lady Falcons saw their eight-year team streak of advancing to the cross country state championships end in 2012. Now a pair of seniors lead an eight-girl squad trying to make it back in 2013.
"I'm happy with what we've got and I think we're going to improve for the rest of the year," Blair Oaks cross country coach Marc Keys said. "The girls team especially has a good chance to qualify for state."
That journey begins at 8:30 a.m. today at New Haven.
"We've gone to the Jim Marshall Invitational (the past few years)," Keys said. "New Haven, a little smaller school, it's a shorter distance, it's a little over 2 miles. I think that will suit us better. We aren't ready as a group to go to a tough competition, tough course. New Haven will be a better choice."
Alyson Jones and Megan Graessle spearhead the Lady Falcons' quest to return to state. Jones finished 52nd in state a year ago while Graessle captured a 71st-place finish.
"It will be back and forth between Alyson and Megan (to be the best runner on the team)," Keys said. "This is the first year Alyson isn't splitting athletically with softball and cross country, so that will benefit Megan and Alyson because they'll have more practice time together. In past years Alyson has been running on her own when she can. It'll be a toss-up and there may be some freshmen that will be in the mix too."
Five freshmen dot the roster - Sarah Casey, Shaley Eichholz, Sarah Ferrell, Rachel Isenberg and Taylor Scott. Sophomore Morgan Spicer rounds out the squad.
"All of those will make an immediate impact at the varsity level, so that's super," Keys said. "We aren't sharing as many girls this year with other sports, so we'll be more consistent in a team score. In past years I've had some people that would run in junior varsity, but I think all of our young ladies are ready for varsity."
The Blair Oaks boys team appears to be on the rise despite the loss of its top runner from 2012.
Brett Voss, now running at Navy, placed third at the Class 2 meet last season, capping off a brilliant career with his best overall finish. He placed 44th as a freshman, 14th as a sophomore and fifth as a junior.
Keys is confident the younger Falcons will follow his lead.
"They are gradually improving," he said. "Certainly having a really good runner in Brett just sort of paving the way. Other kids can see, "Wow, he works hard, I can have success too.' And I think that's important.
"His legacy lives on, certainly with Jason Otto and Nick Yaeger. They saw what he could do and they worked hard, and they're in a position to do as well as Brett. Both of them, judging on preseason, could be all-staters. They're that good at this point."
Yaeger, a junior, placed 43rd and Otto, a sophomore, took 48th at the state meet in 2013. Brad Thomas, a senior, was 51st.
"Brad is a little slower starter, but by the end of the season all three of those guys are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Chase Duren, a junior, looks to be the fourth. There's a lot of uncertainty after him on the 14-man squad.
"I think we'll be strong through four people," Keys said. "It's finding that fifth score, that fifth or sixth guy, and it may take six weeks until we get to that point. I've seen a little bit of flashes of being good, but not on a consistent basis.
"Somebody's going to have to emerge to find that fifth scoring spot. I wouldn't even speculate who that would be at this point."