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story.lead_photo.caption Helias freshman Alexa Lamb (front) runs during the Class 3 girls race on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the cross country state meet. The Missouri High School Cross Country State Championships were held at Oak Hills Golf Center. Photo by Jenna Kieser/News Tribune

The recent run of hot weather has made things a little difficult to get a lot done in practice.

But the Helias Crusaders and Lady Crusaders cross country teams have put in the work heading into this morning's season-opening XC Kickoff at Gans Creek in Columbia.

"It's been hard to get much mileage in because we're limited what we can do outside," Helias coach Leslie Verslues said. "But it's good acclimation for them because it's going to be hot at a lot of these early races."

Verslues, a long-time assistant for the track team, is entering her first season as cross country coach.

"It's been an adjustment for everybody," Verslues said. "I'm having fun, the kids are having fun. It's a great group, if you are going to jump into a coaching situation, this is the one to do it because they are all such a great group of kids who are good students and good athletes.

"I was around a lot of them in track, so that's helped ease things for us."

Another thing that's helped is the team is full of veteran runners who know the practice routes to run since they've been doing it for years.

"It's a lot of the same practice plans and runs and that's helped," Verslues said.

On the boys side, Helias is looking to return to state as a team after finishing 15th in Class 5 last fall.

The starting seven on varsity after the team's time trial are all seniors and juniors.

Payton Kirchhoff, a senior, is the No. 1 runner.

"He's done an awesome job all summer training to get ready for his senior season," Verslues said.

Perry Scott, a senior, is the No. 2 runner.

"Awesome leadership from him, he was our No. 2 guy in mileage over the summer and it shows he's put in the work," Verslues said.

Noah Voss, another senior, is the No. 3 runner with senior Logan Mathews holding down the No. 4 spot.

"I think those four could shift around during the season," Verslues said. "It will be a great competition between them."

Ethan Wilson, a junior who qualified for state in track in the 800-meter run last spring, is the No. 5 runner.

"He has a ton of potential and I think his times will come down," Verslues said.

Brady Voss and Patrick Conley, both juniors, will round out the top seven today.

There are quality runners who will push for one of those seven positions this season.

"There's a close pack at the top of the JV right now that will definitely challenge for varsity spots this season," Verslues said.

On the girls side, the Lady Crusaders look to get back to state after missing out as a team last fall.

The top two runners — senior Alexa Lamb and junior Danielle Buker — are returners

"That should be a good competition between them the entire season," Verslues.

Lamb won the time trial, while Buker was the Lady Crusaders' lone qualifier for state. She was 63rd, finishing with her best time of the season.

The No. 3 and No. 4 runners — Lauren Verslues and Lauren Mathews — are freshmen.

"They should be pushing each other at meets," Leslie Verslues said.

A pair of sisters hold down the next two spots.

Ava Morrisey, a senior, is the No. 5 runner.

"She's a great veteran for us," Verslues said. "I think she will step up as the season goes along."

Iris Morrisey, a freshman, is the No. 6 runner.

"She will push her older sister this season," Verslues said.

Avery Massman, a junior, rounds out the varsity roster today.

"The boys want to get back to state and push for a team trophy," Verslues said. "The girls definitley want to get there as a full team and I think we have a good shot at getting them there."

Today's opener is a 3K race. The boys will run at 8 a.m., with the girls to follow at 8:30 a.m.

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