"Right now, I believe our girls are one of the top five teams in the section," said coach Darrel Carstens, "but our section has two of the top five teams in the state."
Carstens expects Wadena-Deer Creek to be a state contender this year, and thinks Staples-Motley has a good chance at the second state spot with what he calls an up-and-coming team. He groups his Bulldogs with a group of strong teams from Sauk Centre, New London-Spicer, and Morris, a frequent state entrant in the past few years who lost a couple top runners last year.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, lost three seniors from last year's team (Erin Aagesen, Carin Frenchick, and Tiff Rausch), and have only eight girls out so far this fall.
Leading the returning runners is junior Jenny Hess, who has been an All State runner as a ninth and tenth grader. She finished 24th at state two years ago, and was third last year, behind Julie Gifford of Tracy-Milroy. Gifford, though, has graduated, leaving Hess as one of the leading contenders for the state title.
Carstens said a state championship for Hess is possible, but depends on her staying healthy and getting a full fall to train before the section and state meets.
His goal for the team at the start of the year is to improve at each meet. There will be some fresh faces in the varsity lineup this fall, and he hopes the team will improve as the season progresses.
Also returning to the varsity squad this fall is eighth grader Kim Hess, who was the team's second finisher in most meets by the end of last season. Hess earned All Conference honors last year along with her older sister.
Sophomore Danielle Lieser just missed All Conference honors last fall. Mellody Veldkamp, a senior, and Mesa Frenchick, a junior, also return with several seasons of varsity experience.
Jenny Hess, Veldkamp, and Frenchick are the team's captains this year.
Carstens also expects varsity production this fall from Heather Christensen, Trisha Wendlandt, and seventh grader Brooke Schmitz.
Depth is a concern for the team, as there are barely enough girls to complete the varsity squad. "We're hoping to pick up four or five runners when school starts," said Carstens.
In the West Central Conference, St. Cloud Cathedral, coming off a runner-up performance at state, is the favorite, according to Carstens. Albany also went to state, while Sauk Centre was third in Paynesville's section, which might be the toughest in the state.
Assisting Carstens once again will be Rick Houske. New teacher Todd Spanier has also been helping the team this fall.
The girls ran in their first meet on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at Morris. Results will be in next week's issue.
Their next meet is at the golf course in Brooten on Thursday, Sept. 7, in a meet hosted by Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School.
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