FAIRMONT - Fairmont mentor Bob Bonk probably feels like he's been caught inside a revolving door during the last two Cardinal boys cross country seasons.
"Talk about bad luck for our program. Two years ago, our No. 1 returning runner's family moves away," Bonk said in reference to Josiah Johnson. "Then some time after the cross country season ended last year, our No. 1 returning runner's (Sanguja Hassan) family moves out of town."
However, similar to last fall - when the 2013 Cardinals' No. 1 runner Zac Ehlert returned to cross country after competing in soccer during his junior season, Bonk's 2014 roster did gain the skilled strides of Josh Sundblad and Nate Subbert.
BACK ON?COURSE — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals boys cross country team opening the season by playing host to the Early Bird Invitational at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Fairmont High School include, front row (l-r): Head coach Bob Bonk, Nathan Willett, Ben Huinker, Jaxon Jurgens, Kaleb Linse, Nate Subbert, Steve Bulfer, Josh Sundblad, assistant coach Stew Murfield. Middle row: Assistant coach Mark Determan, Kellen Rodriguez, Ben Hernes, Dayton Pasch, Adam Carstensen, Noah Wolter, Cody Lane, Darrian Kueker, Nathan Olson, Andrew Moeller, Justin Olson, assistant coach Jen Kahler. Back row: William Saari, Wil Hillmer, Isaiah Johnson, Colin Stone, Brandon Williams, Blake Haugen, Tyrell Zieske, Martin Mittelstadt. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Sundblad and Subbert, who each played football as sophomores a year ago, produced the top two results for the Fairmont boys program during Thursday's preseason time trials at Cedar Park.
"Josh and Nate have had a lot of success in track and field for us, and both are hard workers. They've been great additions to the team as has Steve Bulfer. It's his first year of running cross country, and I'm sure he will improve with each meet," Bonk said in reference to the only three juniors on the boys roster.
Combine the latest additions with top returning harrier - senior Kaleb Linse - from last fall's Section 2A and South Central Conference meets, and Bonk has a solid nucleus to compete in Friday's season-opening 12-team Early Bird Invitational at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Fairmont High School's practice football field.
Linse returns to the cross country course on the heels of a 53rd-place showing overall in the sectional competition and a 16th-place performance during the last-ever SCC Meet a year ago.
Linse finished fifth during the Cardinals' time trials last week, while sophomore Ben Huinker and eighth-grader Andrew Moeller posted the Nos. 3 and 4 fastest times, respectively.
Huinker placed 27th during last year's conference meet, while freshman Cody Lane took 28th overall by finishing only six-hundredths of a second behind Huinker.
Bonk expects all of the above runners "being in the thick" of competing for varsity spots, along with freshman Nathan Willett.
Ironically, with all of the offseason moves, the Cardinals enter the 2014 cross country campaign without an official team captain.
"We're a ship without a captain at the moment, but I'm positive that we'll have a number of guys emerging into leaders even without having the title of captain," Bonk said with a smile.
Fairmont will have to compete again against Class A powerhouses Martin County West, who holds the No. 1 spot in the preseason rankings, and Waseca, who's ranked No. 3, in the Section 2A Meet this fall.
"It will be awfully tough for any team to break into the top two in our section against the likes of Waseca and Martin County West," said Bonk. "It would be a nice achievement if we could be in the top half of both the section and (newly-formed Big South) conference meets this year.
"We won 58 percent of our meets last year, and if we could have another winning season with only one senior on the team, I would consider it a success. Obviously we want to win, but also set our program up for the future with these younger runners."
Bonk said a key to achieving any of the team's goals would be preparation, and he credits his assistant coaches for all of the work that they do for both cross country programs.
"They're great runners, great coaches and even better people," Bonk said in reference to Stew Murfield and Mark Determan, who received postseason coaching accolades from their peers in 2013.
Newcomer Jen Kahler completes this fall's Cardinal coaching staff.
"She's a great addition, and fits right in with us," said Bonk.