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Cross country: Panthers have high hopes for 2017 season

The St. Croix Central cross country team is shown going through the warmup process at the start of a practice last week. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

There are five number two runners on the St. Croix Central girls cross country team.

That's a sign of the competitiveness and the hunger within the Panthers after they reached the WIAA state championships for the first time in 2016.

The Panthers reached the WIAA Division 2 state championships, where they placed 14th in their maiden voyage to the state meet course in Wisconsin Rapids. With many of those girls back, plus reinforcements, the Panthers are serious threats to earn a return trip to the state meet.

"Their goals: number one is to come home with the conference championship, and then to better themselves at state," said St. Croix Central coach Bill Emery.

The girls have the talent to make their goals come true. They're lead by senior Olivia "Liv" Moll, who was the third place finisher at last fall's sectional meet. The Panthers return five of the seven girls who ran at the sectional meet.

The pack of five who are running collectively in second place on the team is varied in experience. It is led by juniors Claire Moll, Mariah Withuski, Kourtney Labeause and Marie Hamlin, with freshman Sydney Carlson also running in that pack.

Emery said he doesn't discourage that pack from running together. But he wants them to talk during the race, so if someone feels they can break away from the pack, the other girls understand why.

There are also other girls on the team who could become factors at the varsity level this season. Freshman Mya Kizer, sophomore Liberty Grant and junior Samantha Deno all have the talent and desire to find ways to contribute this season.

Emery said the girls are quite serious about the season, but doesn't want them overstressing about the final result of the season.

"My deal is to have them appreciate the journey. I want them to enjoy the trip," he said.

St. Croix Central's boys are also coming back in a very strong position. They finished third at the 2016 MBC meet and only one runner graduated from that team.

Leading that group are senior Will Spitzmueller, sophomore Erik Collins and senior Derek Rock, who were all top 20 finishers at the conference meet last season. Spitzmueller and Rock are team captains.

"The boys are looking more together than they have; that's a plus," Emery said.

Spitzmuller is coming back as the team's number one runner, but he's being pushed by Collins.

Emery said other runners who are in the mix for varsity spots include senior Spencer Goodwin, sophomore Luke Mahedy and freshman Micah Larsen.

Osceola is the reigning MBC boys champion and Emery said his boys are targeting Osceola as the team they want to surpass this season.

"They've got their eyes on championships," Emery said.

The Panthers will be running on their home turf in the first meet of the season this Thursday, Aug. 31. Thirteen schools are scheduled to compete in the meet, which starts at 5:30 p.m.with the girls race. The boys race will begin at 6:30 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.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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