And although the girls’ squad is small in number, it features the return of last year’s top two runners.
When you combine that with a strong work ethic in the off-season and a good attitude in the preseason, you can understand why Holmes is upbeat about his fifth year as head coach.
“It’s been an excellent start to the season in practice as many of the athletes ran this summer,” he said. “The summer training that people did should make it possible for the runners to be at a higher level of training and competitiveness.
“I’ve been really pleased with their condition. The guys really did their work this summer, and so did the girls. We have more kids than ever who ran during the summertime.”
For the boys, senior Cody McMillen will be the pacesetter. Running with illness at last year’s state meet, McMillen still placed 25th in Class 3A. He is coming off a strong spring track season, placing fifth at state in the 3,200 meters with a school-record time of 10 minutes 4.08 seconds.
“Cody is very dedicated to his training and looks prepared to be one of the top runners in the area during his senior season,” Holmes said.
The Trojans graduated a top competitor from last fall’s team in Sean Leihy. But joining McMillen for another run at qualifying are fellow senior Johnny Christian, juniors Nicholas Mueller, Matthew Klenda and Brandon McMillen and sophomore Nathan Vogel.
“These guys, along with (juniors) David Ratzloff and Cody Blackketter are all ready to compete at the varsity level and will provide good team depth,” Holmes said.
Fourteen boys are out for the team this season, including seniors Tyrel Blecha, Alex Jost and Lance Kliewer, and sophomores Nick Carlson, Michael Christian and Jonathan King.
“Only seven can run varsity at meets, so our junior varsity team should be strong with whomever ends up being our eighth and ninth runners that week, and on down,” Holmes said. “Of course, no spots are set and will be earned during the season.”
For the girls, juniors Jessica Elliot and Heidi Schroeder will lead Hillsboro’s five-member squad.
“I would expect both of them to run in the 15 minutes this year as they ran in the low 16s last year,” Holmes said.
For the second year, girls will be running a 4-kilometer course (2.5 miles), which is an increase from the former 2-mile distance but still less than the boys’ 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) course.
Holmes will need an injury-free season to have enough girls to compete as a team.
“The girls’ team has five runners out, which is just enough for a full team, so each person’s place will obviously be important,” he said.
Joining Elliot and Schroeder are fellow juniors Clara Ens and Abi Humber and freshman Krista Benda, all of whom are new to cross country.
“The girls’ attitude, along with their training, has been excellent, and it should be a season of significant progress for the group,” Holmes said. “Some of them are making the commitment that it takes to be a quality runner.”
The Trojan coach expects his boys to finish among the top three teams in the Mid-Central Activities Association. The preseason favorite will be Sterling, which returns most of the team that successfully defended its league title and Class 2A state championship in 2006.
Holmes looks for Hesston to be a challenger as well. The league meet will be Oct. 12 in Hoisington.
“I think we’ll be stronger than we were last year because we have so many people back,” Holmes said. “You can’t replace a runner like Sean, but overall I think our depth will be better.”
The Trojans will begin their competitive season with morning races on three consecutive Saturdays. The first one will be this weekend at the J.K. Gold Classic near Augusta, followed by Wamego Sept. 8 and Wichita Sept. 15.
“I really like our schedule,” Holmes said. “The Saturday-morning races fit well with us training in the morning a lot the first three weeks.”
The site of this year’s regional meet is yet to be determined, but Holmes said his boys’ are working toward a return ticket to the state meet in Wamego Oct. 28.
“The boys would like to qualify for state again and see what they can do,” Holmes said. “There’s injuries or illness or all sorts of things that could happen. But you would expect guys to progress that are a year older, particularly since they trained in the summertime.
“Sometimes they don’t improve as much as they would like to,” he added. “But they seem pretty determined.”