2011 was a storybook season for Pratt High girls cross-country, featuring a team league championship, a 4th place team finish at State, and an individual state champion.
The bad news is, 3 key members of that squad have graduated, including state champion Cheyenne Becker, along with Liz Ash and Haley Reid.
The good news is, despite those losses, Pratt High head cross-country coach Kathy Hitz expects her girls to once again contend in the post-season.
"We actually have a lot coming back," Hitz recalled. " (Senior)Kaylah (Romine) also qualified for state as an individual last season. She was always kind of in Cheyenne's shadow, but this year she is going to be our visible leader."
Other returners from the state team include Cassidy Cronister, Chloe Cannatta and Nichole Moreland. Moreland is currently nursing some knee tendinitis, which kept her out of last week's Soap Bowl, but the injury is not expected to linger into the season.
Adding to the mix is freshman newcomer Ruth Anthony, who Hitz referred to as a "gutsy little runner." In fact, Anthony was the second finisher at Soap Bowl behind Romine.
Carly Reid returns to the squad after missing most of last season with an injury. She will be a valuable addition.
Returner Morgan Strong is currently on the shelf with a severe case of exercise induced asthma, but if the medicos can figure out a remedy, Strong could begin to contribute later in the season.
So despite the loss of some key members from last year's stellar squad, this year's bunch has a chance to be very good as well.
The outlook on the boys side is not quite as promising. If graduation delivered a setback to the girls team, it devastated the boys. Six of the seven varsity runners from last year took the cap and gown express out of town.
The lone varsity returner for the boys is Junior Brendan Pribil. There are a couple of returning runners who logged a varsity race or two, like Joseph Loomis and Josh Powell. Caleb Hitz has shown improvement from last year and junior Will Fellhoelter returns to the squad after a year's absence.
"One big positive on the boys side is that we have been running together in a pack. There hasn't been much separation between our first and our tenth runners in practice," observed Hitz. "A team can score well in meets if they have a small 1-5 gap."
Hitz expects her boys team to improve steadily throughout the season as they gain experience, seasoning and conditioning. Of her young squad, Hitz predicted, "We should be decent as our young kids start to get it figured out."
The Greenback harriers take the field for the first time on Saturday in the Josh Emerson Classic, to be held in Hoisington.
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