If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the attitude of Joe Bailey, the Packer boys and girls cross country coach. Everyone is back from last year's conference championship teams, and there's not a lot that's changed.
"We have a lot of good runners and a lot of talent, and we're pretty much doing the same training that we have the last three years," said Bailey. "The kids are excited and ready to go out and run."
And that could spell trouble for the rest of the EDC, both on the boys' and girls' sides of things. The boys are coming off their first conference title, while the girls are two-time defending champions. Both teams are ranked second in the state in the recent preseason poll.
Sophomore Alissa Mears is the top-rated female runner after having a perfect season last fall, going undefeated in every single race she ran, including the state meet.
Mears said she doesn't feel pressure to do that well this season, but she is focused on defending her state championship.
"My goal is not to be undefeated all year," said Mears. "It'd be good if it happened again, but I'm not worried about it, as long as state goes good. It takes a lot for all of that to fall into place. Some people didn't have their best year last year, while last year was one of my better ones. You can't do that every single year."
Mears is joined at West Fargo by three other all-state runners, including junior Britny Bucholz (8th at state last year) and freshmen Jessica Rosenau (19th) and Christine Baltimore (20th). The trio, along with Mears, was also part of a record six Packer girls to make the all-conference team. Seniors Ellie Grooters and Hillary Olheiser were also all-EDC.
The deep and talented Packer girls also field freshmen Leah Hermanson and Brooke Grooters, and both are expected to work into scoring at times this year. The talent is so deep for the girls, as well as the boys, that some runners that most other years would work their way into the scoring column, go unmentioned.
"There are so many talented ones, that they are too numerous to mention," said Bailey. "We have a very hardworking, good group of kids to work with."
The boys will be led for one more year by all-state returning seniors Spencer Uetz and Jamison Gehrig, who took 13th and 14th at state last year. All of the record six all-conference runners for West Fargo return this fall. In addition to Uetz and Gehrig, they include freshman Darin Baltezore, juniors Nate Peterson and Lukas Johnson and senior Scott Salter.
"We're coming back strong, and so far we're doing pretty good," said Gehrig. "With all the hard work we're putting in we can pull it off again."
Bismarck is the top ranked boys and girls team. Grand Forks Central will challenge the Packer boys again this year, while the Fargo South girls should be a solid team, as always.
"We've been kind of getting better with the boys and the girls each year," said Bailey. "Now that we're there, it will be a challenge to stay in the hunt for those top places all the time."