2018 Preview: Somerset cross country looking for fifth runners
Both Somerset cross country teams are in a position to be more of a factor in the Middle Border Conference than they have been in several seasons.
Each of the Somerset teams appears to have four runners who can compete in the upper half of many races this season. The next step for the Spartans is to find fifth runners who can move up in the pack and make the teams more competitive.
The Spartans were one of the first teams from the MBC to compete this season, taking part in the Boyceville Invitational last Thursday. The results were highly encouraging. The Spartan girls had their best team finish in several years, placing fifth out of 11 teams. Because of prior commitments, like runners performing with the Somerset Marching Band at the Minnesota State Fair, the Spartan boys didn't have enough runners available to compete as a team.
Team numbers may be the biggest news of all for the Somerset program. After several years of struggling to fill lineups, the Spartans have very solid numbers this season. That's especially true for the girls team, which has 18 runners, nine of them freshmen.
One of the freshmen was the lead runner for the Spartans at Boyceville on Thursday. Freshman Erin Huerta finished sixth in the meet.
"She's most definitely a competitor," Somerset coach Abby Christensen said of her new lead runner.
The Spartan girls have a trio of returning juniors who have already established themselves as quality runners. Kristin Vensland placed 16th, Brycen Chladek 30th and Liv Hoff 34th at Boyceville.
Christensen said a number of girls are candidates for the fifth role. Freshman Anna Bartig stepped up to be the fifth runner on Thursday, placing 39th. Christensen Megan Larse and Kaylee Erickson will also be competing for the fifth varsity spot.
The Spartans don't compete in a meet this early in the season. But the older runners convinced the coaches that they'd work hard over the summer, so the coaches agreed to start the meet schedule a week earlier. For the past several seasons, this Thursday's St. Croix Central Invitational was the opening meet for the Spartan runners.
Somerset's boys also have four solid runners to lead their pack. Senior Ben Schmitt, junior Tyler Hantsbarger and sophomores Zach Maitrejean and Thor Sanders form a talented core for the boys team. Christensen said the leading candidates to take on the fifth position are Landon Wilson, Alex DeGeest, Jack Schottler, and Riley Rainier, though other boys could work their way into the top seven.
The work over the summer showed for Schmitt, the only runner among the top four who was available for the Boyceville meet. Schmitt placed 11th among 171 runners in the meet. Christensen said that with the base of miles run by the boys this season, she doesn't have to concentrate on conditioning. That will allow for more speed work, which will help the team to continue its arc of progress.
Christensen said a goal for the season is to be more competitive against other Middle Border Conference teams. She said the MBC is extremely strong, shown by the fact that the Osceola boys and both St. Croix Central girls teams qualified for the WIAA state meet last fall. The Somerset girls showed Thursday they are ready to be more competitive, beating Prescott, Ellsworth and Baldwin-Woodville in the results at Boyceville.