2010 Preview: Can Spartan girls be a threat for MBC cross country titie?
Competitiveness is perhaps the most valued asset that coaches like to see in their athletes.
The Somerset girls cross country team is packed with runners who carry an intense competitive fire. Spartan coach Diane Belter is hoping that spirit can carry the team to big things this season.
The Spartans already return two of the top six runners in the conference. Junior Tia Belter is the defending Middle Border Conference champion and senior Monica Emerson ranked sixth in the conference championship race last season. The year before, Emerson placed seventh at the conference meet and Belter took 10th place.
In last year's conference meet the Spartans placed fourth, but they were only 68 points behind New Richmond, the conference champion.
Since then, the Spartans have brought in reinforcements. Eight girls have joined the team, bringing the roster up to 18 for the 2010 season.
Most of the eight new additions will immediately compete for the varsity spots behind Emerson and Belter. Coach Belter said she expects the girls in these spots to change every meet.
"It's been a mighty long time since I've had a group that has been this competitive," Belter said. "We've got seven or eight girls who love to compete and thrive on that competition."
Three seniors who transferred over from the volleyball team lead the group competing for the varsity spots. They include the Berger twins, Kayla and Krista, and Shelby Peterson.
Sophomore Grace Becher and juniors Sara Henry and Rylie Dierich are varsity holdovers who will be right in the mix for varsity spots again this season.
Juniors Paige Wagner and Brooke Conrad are two highly competitive girls who will push themselves to move up in every meet. Freshmen Carrie Kulibert and Cassie Schmidt, who moved here from Illinois, will add to the competition for varsity spots.
"I cannot remember having that many girls truly wanting and fighting for a varsity spot as this group has," Belter said.
The main obstacle for the Spartans this season is the overall talent in the Middle Border Conference. Every one of the 14 all-conference girls return this season and Emerson is the only senior among that group. New Richmond is the defending girls conference champion and the Tigers return all their runners.
That didn't preclude Coach Belter from thinking the Spartans could be a conference championship team.
"It is possible, with all the right components falling into place. We have to worry about our own times first," she said.
To think seriously about winning conference, Belter said the girls must narrow the gap between the two lead runners and the third, fourth and fifth varsity runners.
And with the competitiveness of the girls fighting for those varsity positions, such a challenge may be just what it takes to get that accomplished.
Somerset's boys cross country team ranked seventh out of the eight teams in the MBC meet last season. Coach Belter is hoping to improve on that mark this season.
Junior Jake Wishard is being viewed as the leader of the Spartans this season. He put in plenty of roadwork over the summer after being a solid runner last season.
Sophomore Josh Verdeja is new to cross country, but ran distance in track last season. Coach Belter said she thinks Verdeja can run with Wishard to give the Spartans a good 1-2 tandem. Senior Dakota Belter is fully capable of being the third varsity runner.
The challenge for the boys is having runners step up to fill the two other varsity scoring positions. The leading candidates to step up and take those positions are senior Joe Germain and junior Tyler Lindquist.
There have been changes to the Spartan coaching staff this season. Ayla Mitchell has been hired as a middle school teacher and the former All-American at UW-Oshkosh will assist Belter with the varsity team. Belter and Mitchell both ran at UW-Oshkosh under legendary coach Deb Vercauteren.
Nathan Klinger will move from the varsity assistant post to become the middle school coach.