FAIRMONT - The high school fall sports season is officially off and running with the teams in their second week of practice.
The Fairmont Cardinals' girls cross country team is looking forward to having success this season despite graduating three top runners.
With five letterwinners returning from its 2011 team, Fairmont will still have a number of young runners leading the way.
MAKING STRIDES — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls cross country team running in the Early Bird Invitational at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Fairmont High School’s practice football field include, front row (l-r): Rachel Botzet, Sarah Bartz, Hannah Olson, Katiana Fischer, Julie Fleming, Sasha Riley, Anna Hernes, Sarah Ostlie, Miranda Mathiason, Grace Higgins, Alyssa Fetters and Lizzy Subbert. Middle row: Emma Koehler, Zoey Roggow, Rose Lueth, Hannah Johnson, Emilee Moeller, Matelyn Schultz, Anna Nordquist, Anna Sundblad, Emily Haugen, Madison Pierce and Lexi Fischer. Back row: Assistant coach Stew Murfield, Taylor Driehorst, Jenna Pavich, Molly Hawkins, assistant coach Mark Determan, Megan Hawkins, Bethany Linse, Annie Mittelstadt and head coach Bob Bonk. Not pictured: Rachel Poppe, Jaclyn Friese and Sarah Poppe. Photo by Leanna Becker
Sophomore Katiana Fischer looks to lead the Cardinal charges after a stellar spring track season. Fischer, along with other sophomore returning letterwinners Jaclyn Friese, Sarah Ostlie and Sasha Riley, will help give guidance to the younger Fairmont runners.
Sarah Bartz is the lone freshman returning letterwinner.
"We are a very young team this year. We lost three very good runners for us, but I think that this young group has a lot of potential to do well this year," said Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk.
The potential has grown even more after a summer of running by a number of girls. As a part of an offseason program, in addition to a way to stay in shape, many members of the team tracked their runs in an attempt to reach 250 miles and earn a T-shirt. Bartz and Ostlie each actually covered more than 350 miles this summer.
That dedication already has shown during Fairmont's preseason time trials at Cedar Creek Park on Friday. Fischer led the way, finishing the 4,000-meter course in 17:29, while Bartz and Ostlie finished in 18:23 and 18:40, respectively.
Friese crossed the finish line in 19:05, eighth-grader Emily Haugen finished in 19:06, while both sophomore Anna Hernes and eighth-grader Molly Hawkins finished in 19:10 to round out the top seven finishers.
"Every single runner this year ran as fast as or improved on their time trial time from last year," said Bonk. "As far as our conditioning, we are ahead of schedule."
Fairmont's schedule includes the Early Bird Invitational at 9:30 a.m. Friday on the Fairmont High School's grounds.
With such a young group, there are plenty of varsity spots up for grabs, giving even younger runners a chance at earning a varsity point.
"Sometimes we start out the younger ones on JV, even if we see potential so that they can get a feel for the racing strategy and build some confidence. But we have a good group with a lot of potential, so it should be fun," said Bonk.
Bonk and his coaching staff of Mark Determan and Stew Murfield will look for the Cardinals' returning letterwinners and older athletes to guide the young ones during their early meets, hoping to help give the team a chance to do well in the South Central Conference. Waseca is the favorite in the conference due to a strong returning core from last year's league championship team.
"We don't have any returning state qualifiers or all-conference athletes. Our motto this year is that the best is yet to come," said Bonk. "We just want to continue to improve as the year goes on and hopefully, when October gets here, we can finish with strong and fast races."
Fairmont also will host the Fairmont Invite on Sept. 17 and the I-90 Invite on Oct. 4 - both at Cedar Creek Park.