LOYOLA BOYS: The Crusaders graduated four of the top six runners from a year ago. Coach Dale Compson has 16 student-athletes out for the team in grades 7-12.
Senior Wyatt Elmer will anchor the team. As a junior, he finished 52nd at the state meet. "He's a good runner and a good leader for us," Compton said.
Among the other challengers for varsity sports are eighth-grader Landon Javens and senior Nick Courrier. Javens had a strong track season last spring, and Courrier has been working hard in the offseason to improve
Two more runners who are out for cross country for only the second season are senior Andrew Murray and junior Aaron Guentzel. Murray has made big strides since last year. Guentzel is recovered from the injuries that held him back a year ago.
Martin County West is the clear-cut favorite to win the Gopher Valley Conference championship and should battle Waseca for the Section 2A title. Compton said trying to get back to a Top 4 finish in the conference is a good goal for this fall.
The Crusaders open the season Aug. 29 with a 4 p.m. home meet on Good Counsel Hill.
WEST GIRLS: Coach Scott Carlson says his team is in about the same shape numbers-wise as last year with about 40 runners out in grades 7-12. The Scarlets did not lose any varsity runners and return a wealth of young competitors with at least a year's worth of experience.
Among the top returnees are senior Holly Hankins and three eighth-graders — Savannah Friessen, Cait Flannery and Briggs Carlson. Sophomore Katie Esslinger is also a top candidate for West's top five.
"The bottom line is, we have a young team but have everybody back and we're looking to buld on last year's late-season success," coach Carlson said. "We have a lot of kids who have put in a ton of miles this summer. Most of them came back in pretty good shape."
The Scarlets were second to last in the Big Nine in 2012 but Carlson believes his crew can make a giant leap forward. "We're hoping for top-2 in the conference. We finished strong with three seventh-graders last year, and we expect them to continue to improve."
Shakopee will be the clear-cut favorite to win the section this season. West opens the season Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Austin Invitational.