After a breakthrough season, Calvary Lutheran cross country is trying to keep the positive momentum the program has been slowly building during the past eight years.
Those years ended with a Class 1 state title for the boy's team last fall and gives coach Kerri Morris a squad that is slowly building in size.
"Last year was a really strong year, especially for the boy's team, we had a huge senior class and it was a great group of kids," Morris said. "But the benefit of that kind of leadership is it brings interest and it helps these underclassmen."
The team anticipates a move to the Class 2 level due to the championship points provision, so higher numbers will give the team a better chance of replacing a core senior class that had all ran with the program since they were together at Trinity Lutheran.
Kyle Hagemeyer is the team's number one runner and is one of two returners from last year's state championship team with sophomore Jaxson Jobe.
"They've got that experience and they've got that drive, and they know it's going to be tough, we're going to move up," Morris said. "But I tell them, they're still going to be competitive, and that we're going to run hard no matter what class we're at. They have a good leadership edge on everybody because they've been at that top level. And so they know what it's going to take."
Also stepping into leadership roles will be seniors Lars Marion and Alex Roettgen. Both were alternates last season and were on the varsity team when it took third place in 2019.
"I think (Marion's) senior year he can really make a jump." Morris said.
Sophomores Sam Schnitzler and Gage Pavely will also compete for spots to score in the top five this season while freshman Ben Kuhlman is currently in the seventh spot to round out the varsity team.
"He's worked hard and he's made that transition and I think we can get him some experience," Morris said.
Behind Kuhlman is four underclassman runners who will be able to get junior varsity experience.
The team will make the step up into new "Super Districts" that are larger than previous years. After MSHSAA got rid of sectionals during last season, it made that a permanent change with the top four teams in each district and the top 30 individuals qualifying to the state championship meet in Columbia.
On the girl's side, Morris expects them to stay in Class 1, and with the addition of freshman Sonya Brunner, the team will have the all-important fifth runner to be able to get back to scoring as a team at varsity meets, giving them a chance at team qualification for the postseason.
Juniors Maddie Homfeldt, Madelyn Goodson and Kaleigh Kaiser lead the pack while sophomore Sydney Morris rounds out the varsity team with Brunner.
Homfeldt returns for her junior season after finishing in the top-15 at the past two state meets.
"She's one of those that puts in the miles in the offseason," Morris said. "She's just getting stronger and she's a smart runner."
The girls will also be in a larger district due to the system change, and Morris hopes that both teams will be placed in the same location despite having to be in different districts because of the change in classification for the boy's team.
"I would love to say somewhere close to home, like Linn, we've been really lucky," Morris said. "And of course, we get in a unique spot, that likely our girls will be in one class and our boys will be another. And we keep our fingers crossed that they continue to hold Classes 1, 2, and 3 at the same location so that coaches aren't trying to figure stuff out."