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2010 Preview: Panther CC boys plan to maintain D-SC dominance

St. Croix Central's runners are good and they fully intend to get better by the end of the season.

Central's boys are the defending Dunn-St. Croix Conference cross country champions. While repeating as conference kingpins is important to the Panthers, it isn't their ultimate goal.

Getting back to the WIAA Division 2 state meet on Oct. 30 at The Ridges Golf Club in Wisconsin Rapids is the goal that drives the Panthers. Central's boys qualified for the state meet in 2008 and weren't far from returning to the state meet last season.

Central's girls aren't in the same position, after graduating their three top runners from last season. That isn't precluding Panther coach Bill Emery from thinking that Central's girls will be a factor in the conference meet in October.

Central's boys are led by defending conference individual champion Brett Johnson. Johnson and juniors Stephen Brunshidle and Alex Halvorson give the Panthers a top three that's hard to beat in the conference.

The question for the Panthers at the start of the season was "who are going to be the fourth and fifth varsity runners?" Sophomores Brett Briggs and Andrew Skala have made themselves the answers to that question. With hard work in the off-season, they have stepped up and taken those roles. Emery said he expects veteran runners Chris Halvorson and Jon Mielke will improve and push Briggs and Skala for those varsity positions by the end of the season.

With those sophomores stepping up, the Panthers were able to win the 12-team Boyceville Invitational last Thursday.

Emery said the Panthers can't take for granted that they'll win conference again this season. He said the Glenwood City boys are much improved and will try to unseat the Panthers.

Central's girls could be one of the surprises of the season in the D-SC this year. Senior Corynne Nelson and junior Jenna Ganther carry the only significant varsity experience on the girls team.

Four new runners, three freshmen and a sophomore, have turned the Panthers' hopes around in a hurry. The addition of Courtney Kramer, Hope Hoolihan, Abbie Webb and McKenzy Johnson has put the Panthers back in contention.

Emery said there are two extremely strong girls teams in the conference in Mondovi and Colfax.

"I think we can be competitive with them," Emery said.

Health will be a factor for the girls team. Ganther has been set back by illness at the start of the season.

The Panthers are also holding out hope that senior Hayley Ray can make a comeback from health issues.

Central's girls placed 10th among 13 teams at Thursday's Boyceville meet. Emery said with the team fully healthy, they could make a big step up in the race results.

Fans who want to see the Panthers compete have a great opportunity this Thursday as the Panthers host their 2010 invitational. They will be joined in the meet by Baldwin-Woodville, Somerset, Boyceville, Elmwood, Spring Valley, Amery, Osceola and Prescott. Races start with the boys high school race at 4:30 p.m. The girls high school race will start at 5 p.m. The middle school girls and boys will run together in a race starting at 5:30 p.m.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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