Last year, the boys’ squad lacked a senior. This year, the team fields four: Jake Schrag, Travis Duerksen, Matt Johnston and Chris Johnston.
They will be followed closely by junior Anthony Esau and sophomores Isaac Fast, Chad Wedel and Derek Kruger.
Marius Schrewe joins the team as a junior, Jared Reimer is running with the squad for the first time as a sophomore, and Laird Goertzen will be the team’s only freshman.
“I am once again surprised about our numbers,” coach Greg Bontrager said. “We have more students participating in cross-country than ever before.”
In addition to the other advantages afforded a team by large numbers, Bontrager’s group has developed a unique camaraderie.
“They are an incredibly supportive group,” he said. “Already, in the first week of practice, I have seen runners cheering for each other no matter where they are in the lineup.”
A positive group dynamic counts for a great deal in this endurance sport.
“When you’re at the end of your energy reserve, it feels great to have your friends cheering for you,” he said. “It makes the last push to the finish much more bearable.”
Without going into specifics, Bontrager has expressed optimism about his teams’ potential.
“As for predicting how we will fare during the post season, time will tell,” he said. “I believe that we will have many positive outcomes.”
If recent history can predict the future, his optimism is well founded.
The boys placed fourth at regionals last year; the girls won their regional and went on to place second at the Class 1A state meet.
In Bontrager’s 14 years, six boys’ teams have qualified to run at state. The 2006 Bluebirds were his first girls’ team to qualify.
Although the 2007 girls will be without standout Janessa Wedel and exchange students Friederike Noltenius and Lisa Rohner, a pair of sophomores return to run for Goessel again.
Lindsey Wedel and Sara Boman will be joined by junior newcomers Jessika Jesse and Julia Draeger. Kristen Hoffman gives Bontrager’s girls’ squad five members—enough to run as a team for the second time in as many years.
The Bluebirds will compete in their first meet of the season Thursday with a trip to Clearwater. Races begin at 4:30 p.m.