MANKATO — If there's one common thread running through the six Mankato high school cross country teams, it's youth.
Most of them have some upper classmen that will make significant contributions but most will also rely on junior high or underclassmen to fill out their top seven varsity spots.
The coaches say its not unusual to have younger runners making an impact and expect that trend to continue in the near future. The real challenge is convincing the good ones to stay in the program through their senior years.
The following is a thumbnail sketch of each team:
EAST BOYS: The Cougars have graduated top runner Brad Kunz but have just about everybody else back. Coach Chris Ward has just under 45 runners out in grades 7-12.
Kunz finished at or near the top in just about every meet last season, and his point-total will be tought to replace. "Some of our young guys are going to have to step up to try to fill that void," Ward said.
Among this year's top returning runners are the Warning twins — Isaiah and Micah — as well as junior Tony Nelson. All three should be in the team's Top 5.
"It's fun to have that dynamic of the two Warning brothers on the team," Ward said. "They're captains who have a lot of fun, but they're very competitive with each other and everyone else."
Those challenging for the remaining Top 5 sports are senior Logan Harms and junior Neil Nienaber.
Owatonna is the Big Nine Conference favorite while Orono and Chaska should challenge for the Section 2AA championship.
"We'd like to be over .500 in our meets by the end of the season," Ward said. "If we could get into the Top 3 in the conference, that would be great, as well."