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The 2019 high school cross country season is off and running after last week's Douglas Early Bird at the Prairie Ridge Golf Course in Box Elder, while Rapid City Central competed in the Pierre Invitational.

Several area teams look to once again look to challenge for state titles, with Custer the Class A boys' and girls' defending state champions, while the Rapid City Central girls and Rapid City Stevens boys both took second in their respective Class AA state meets.

Here's a capsule look at 12 of 17 area schools that returned the Rapid City Journal's season preview questionnaire.

Belle Fourche Broncs

Coach: Chris Riley (5th year)

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: N/A

Returning letterwinners

Girls -- Allison Hayes, 8th grade (79th at Class A State as a 7th grader); Anika Main, 8th grade; Alanah Pomrenke, Fr.; Hayley Wilbur, Jr.

Boys -- Jordan Sandoval, 8th grade; Sawyer Clarkson, Fr. (7th at Class A State as an 8th grader); Nic Lambert, Fr.; Devin Nowowiejski, Fr.; Cole Hockenbary, Soph.; Wyatt Keegan, Soph.

Coach’s comments:

“The Broncs should be an improved team this year on both the boys’ and girls’ sides. We had a great group of kids logging consistent summer miles and as a young team another year of experience and growth will help,” said Riley. “We also have a pair of seniors coming out for their first-ever seasons who should both be contenders at most meets we attend. Qualifying one or both teams for the state meet is a tall but realistic expectation. We are looking forward to seeing how we stack up against one of the best conferences and regions in the state.”

Rapid City Central Cobblers

Coach: Thad Caldwell, 8th year as head coach

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: The girls team is coming back from placing second at last year's state meet.

Returning letterwinners:

Girls: Delaney Kost, junior, 9th at state meet; Lilli Molitor, sophomore, 21st; Makaen DeGeest, sophomore, 22nd; Gracin Larson, freshman, 25th

Other letter winners - Seniors: Kacie Gross, Katie Johnson; Junior: Kazlyn Bachelor

Boys Letterwinners

Seniors: Vincent England and Aaryn Jump

Juniors: Connor Clausen, Sam Conroy, Cade Janvrin and Ayden Prudich

Sophomore: Eli Black Bear

 Coach’s comments:

 "We are excited to get the season started. There are several young runners who ran significant mileage over the summer and are looking forward to starting their high school cross country career on a high note," Caldwell said. "The Cobblers will have several runners who are also involved in other fall activities. Figuring out how to split their time and still achieve the results they want will be a challenge."

Rapid City Stevens Raiders

Coach: Jesse Coy, 10th Year as the head coach.

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Stevens boys, second; Stevens girls, sixth.

Returning letterwinners 

Boys -- Lucas Steiger, 17th at state; Liam Vidas, 18th; Hayden Grosz, 20th; Alex Otten, 47th

Girls -- Kylee Bennett (transfer from Sturgis) 4th; Bryanna Kuhn, 5th; Hailey Uhre, 8th; Elise Unkenholz, 26th, Cassidy Teeslink, 62nd; Kasey Van Zee, 77th

 Coach’s comments:

"Any success during the season depends largely on summer training and fortunately, we had a consistent group of students that put in solid training on a daily basis since early June," Coy said. "We're really excited to see how the season plays out and what types of improvements students make.

"The boys return two great senior leaders in Lucas Steiger and Liam Vidas, who both finished in the Top 20 at the state meet in 2018. Junior Hayden Grosz is our other returning medalist (20th) from last year. We're looking for some depth in the 5-7 spots, and it will be exciting to find out who steps into scoring roles by the end of the season.

"The girls are headed toward an improved season, with three girls (Kylee Bennett, Bryanna Kuhn and Hailey Uhre) who placed in the Top 10 at the state meet in 2018 . In addition to those three, we have a handful of girls with state meet experience and a sizable group that had a great summer of training."

Custer Wildcats

Coach -- Karen Karim, 12th year

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Girls, first; boys, first.

Returning letterwinners

Boys: Jace Oesterling, 6th at state; Preston Drew, 27th; Pierce Sword, 39th; Miles Ellman, 35th; Drew Lehman, 100th; Tucker Youngblood, Sam Jackson

Girls: Sierra Oesterlin, 8th; Mallory Delmont, 11th; Kadense Dooley, 23rd; Nancy Falkenburg Brown, 26th, Eva Studt, 28th, Ramsey Karim, 31st, Josie Dvorak.

Coach’s preseason comments

"These kids have worked very hard in the off season and have the right attitude going into the season," said Karim. "We are excited to get on the course and see where we stack up."

Wall Eagles

Coach: Karol Patterson, 10 years.

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Girls, fourth at state.

Letterwinners returning:

Girls -- Keaunna Poor Bear, sophomore, state qualifier; Alexis Stephan, 8th grade, state qualifier, state placer, conference placer. Paige Kjerstad, 8th grade, state qualifier, state placer

Boys -- Austin Olson, Jr., state qualifier; Nathan Fox, Sr.; Blake Olso8th grader.

Coach’s comments

"The ladies squad returns the fourth place state runners, Poor Bear, Stephan, and Kjerstad. Also adding to the nucleus of the team will be Camri Elshere, Jr., Taylee Dartt, 7th grader; Macee Paulsen, 7th grader and Jayda Reinert, 7th grader," said Patterson. "The girls will be competitive at their meets this season. The boys' squad has three returning runners from last season. Adding to the squad this are Ethan Ferguson, soph., and Riley Hayes, sop. The boys will have PR’s at their meets their season."

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Douglas Patriots

Coach: Dale Pepper, head coach 27 years

Returning athletes

Girls -- Makenzie LeBlanc, Sr.; Alissa Weiman, Jr., 6th at state; Rachel Johnson, soph., Kayla Maquindang; Soph., Joslyn Russell, Soph; Chantal Swemby, Soph.

Boys -- Colin Gholson, Soph; Nick Whitesell; Jr.; Nickolai Lunde, Soph; Miles Baker, Soph.

Newell Irrigators

Coach: Kyle Sanderson, 7th season

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Boys, third place, girls, third place. Combined Class B team champions.

 Returning letterwinners

Nathaniel Kirby, Sr.,  17th place at state; Garrett Winkler, Soph., 25th; Lexa Burtzlaff, Jr., 15th; Austin Alexander, Sr., 46th; Stacy Mahaffy, Fr. 50th, Rachel Erk, 8th grade, 23rd.

Coach’s preseason comments

"Last season was the first time the Newell boys cross country team placed as a team at state and our girls, it was the fourth  in a row placing as a team," said Sanderson. "Both teams won the Little Moreau Conference last season and we are hoping to repeat this season. We will be looking for Nathaniel and Garrett to help lead the boys team with some new runners joining the team on the boys side. The girls team will look to Lexa and Austin to lead team this season. Lexa has placed each of the last 3 seasons at the State meet and Austin has been on the team since the program started her 6th grade year and wants to end her cross country career on a high note."

 Sturgis Scoopers

 Coach: Blake Proefrock, fifth season.

 Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Boys, ninth; girls, 11th.

Returning letterwinners

Nate Andersen Sr., Josie Kaufman Jr., Jessica Matthew Soph., Brady Buchholz Jr., Jade Breidenbach Jr., Taylor Tobias Jr., Blane Breth Sr., Ray Henderson Soph., Haley Ferguson Jr.

 Coach’s comments

"We are extremely excited for another season of running," said Proefrock. "We did lose some very key pieces from a year ago. However, we still have a good nucleus of athletes that will work extremely hard this season. Our goal is to get better each week and peak near the end of the season. We hope to compete well in the Black Hills Conference and at the state level."

Spearfish Spartans

Coach: Andy VanDeest, 10th season.

 Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Girls, 15th, boys, 12th.

 Returning letterwinners

Keenan Urdiales, Max Ensor, Finn Hamilton, Cole Hansen, Jase Dee, Jadyn Johnson, Josie Tobin, Laina Ornelas, Brea Servaty, Halle Fjelland

 Coach’s comments

"We have a young team lead by Keenan and Jadyn who were two of our top runners at the state meet last season. Both are sophomores this year and have had a good summer of training," said Van Deest. "Josie Tobin (freshman) will also be one to help lead the Spartans this season. On the boys side we will be looking for our only senior on the team, Cole Hansen to help guide the boys towards a successful season. Both teams will look to improve on last years finishes both at conference and state. After loosing only one senior on both sides the young kids will be expected to step up and fill in where they are needed."

Rapid City Christian Comets

Coach: Angie Schafer, second year.

Last year's state team finish: Boys, seventh at state.

Returning Letterwinners

Ethan Roberts, Jr.,  23rd at state; Jon Vancas, Jr., 72nd; Simeon Birnbaum, 8th grade, 10th; Anna Birnbaum, Soph., 17th.

Coach's comments

"We are a fairly young team this season, but the kids we have our passionate about running and excited to work hard and compete," said Schafer.

St. Thomas More Cavaliers

Coach: Royce Wuertzer, sixth season

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Girls, fourth; boys, third.

Returning letterwinners

Girls -- Kaci Cooper, Sr,. 15th at state; Paetyn Carlin, Fr., 21st; Emily Johnson, Jr., 37th; Kiah Trainor, Sr., 54th; Carly Hanzlik, Fr., Alternate.

Boys -- Jarek Glenn, Sr., 5th; Cody Farland, Jr., 16th; John Blote, Jr., 41st; Wilson Miller, Fr., 98th; Jacob Rausch, Jr., Alternate

Coach’s comments:

"With both the girls and boys teams returning four individuals from last year's state team, we are excited about the experience that we have and the potential for the season," said Wuertzer. "We will be depending on many of our younger runners to grow this year, but with the leadership of our Seniors Kaci Cooper and Jarek Glenn having five years of state experience, plus Kiah Trainor we feel like we have the leadership to help develop those younger runners.

"So the expectation are always high for them to continue their success they have had. Expectation are also high for others on the team, they got a taste of success last year and want to top what they did last year. They have set high goals for themselves and have put the work in over the summer and to begin the season to start the process of reaching those goals."

Hill City Rangers

Coach: Joseph Noyes, sixth season.

Last year’s state team finish if applicable: Class A runnerup.

Returning letterwinners

Abby Cutler, 8th grader, 10th at state; Rebecca Cutler, Jr., 53rd; Lizzy Escalante, Sr., 16th at state in 2017; Lillie Ross 8th grader, 121st; Luke Rupert, 8th grader, 66th.

"The Rangers are looking to have another successful year in cross country, after working to fill some big shoes from last years girls team," Noyes said. "We must  replace three seniors and half of their varsity squad. However, the Rangers are led by senior Lizzy Escalante and 8th-grader Abby Cutler. This team of runners has come together and put a lot of work in this summer and has some high goals set for this years state meet. These athletes are motivated to continue a placing tradition at the state meet.

"Luke Rupert on the boys squad returns as an 8th grader after being the only boy to qualify for state, the first in Hill City in two years. The boys team also had a group of five to six athletes committed to training this summer, and the boys look to field their first varsity team under Coach Noyes."

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