FAIRMONT - With a handful of seniors and another handful of returning letterwinners, the Fairmont Cardinal boys cross country team is looking to shake things up in order to find the right mix of runners to race through the South Central Conference this fall.
Senior Zac Ehlert ventured back to the racing ranks after a season on the soccer fields. With the offseason departure of Andrew Johnson and Josiah Johnson due to their family moving to Colorado, Ehlert's return could not have been better timed.
"That was a big blow for our team, losing two of our top-five runners. With their family moving, there wasn't anything we could do, but that makes having Zac back with us an even bigger help," said Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk.
HITTING THE TRAIL — Members of the Fairmont boys cross country team opening the season by hosting the Early Bird Invite on Friday at Fairmont High School include, front row (l-r): Ryan Holmers, Sangujah Hassan, Brian Wilde, Cole Huinker, Harley Luhmann, Christopher Poush, Zac Ehlert, Colin Meadows and Kaleb Linse. Middle row: Assistant coach Stew Murfield, Noah Wolter, Seth Carlmark, Andrew Moeller, Adam Carstensen, Nathan Olson, Jaxon Jurgens, Cody Lane, Dylan Muller, Colin Stone, Nathan Willett, Ben Huinker and head coach Bob Bonk. Back row: Wil Hillmer, Darrian Kueker, Dayton Pasch, Ben Hernes, Jed Slater, Blake Haugen and Isaiah Johnson. Not pictured: Assistant coach Mark Determan. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Along with Ehlert's long-distance racing skills from track last spring, the senior trio of Cole Huinker, Harley Luhmann, Christopher Poush and junior Kaleb Linse will help carry the varsity running load.
"Kaleb and Cole Huinker both ran varsity for us last season, and finished out the season pretty strong. This summer they worked hard and have really improved a great deal," said Bonk.
While the varsity experience may be prevalent among the top runners, the challenges still mount against the Cardinal runners.
Martin County West, the Section 2A and Valley Conference champion, returns a large portion of its title team, while Section 2A runner-up and South Central Conference champion Waseca also will be in the mix for the top bids in the section.
"I think that even with some of the talent and varsity experience we have in the top guys, we don't have a strong enough team to contend for the conference or section, but we are still confident that we will be able to compete in meets," said Bonk. "The guys did a great job of preparing for the season, and with some tough practices, we should all be back into shape."
"Sanguja (Hassan) and Christopher put in a lot of work this summer, and both finished last season really strong and kept improving," said Bonk.
The Cardinals also will look to a large group of junior high runners to fill in the final varsity spots.
"Cody Lane and Andrew Moeller have been running well for us these first couple weeks of practice," said Bonk. "They could be good varsity contributors if they keep improving. And we've got the most junior high kids we've had in a while, so that is really nice to see."
Fairmont will see its first racing action at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Early Bird Invite at Fairmont High School.