Red Wing cross-country has had its share of success the last three seasons. On the boys' side, the Wingers are the three-time defending Section 1AA champions. With Weston Wyatt, Tom Nemanich, Jonah Leise, Bryan Zucker, Skyler Bennyhoff on the roster during the past three-year stretch, head coach Jesse Nelson said it was luxury to have those runners.
Wyatt won last year's Section 1AA race. Nemanich finished fifth, Leise came in 10th, Zucker finished 13th and Bennyhoff in 29th to round out the top-30.
Finishing in the top-6 in team results with regularity the past three years, the group of Wyatt, Nemanich, Leise, Zucker and Bennyhoff have all graduated. Meaning this year's top spots are wide open.
"We were very spoiled with that group of seniors we had last year," Nelson said. "We're up to the challenge though."
Caleb Korder, one of four seniors on the boys' roster, is the only returning runner with varsity experience. Nelson isn't worried, however.
"(Seniors) Dan Byers and Dylan Anderson did a wonderful job of leading the group this summer," Nelson said. "Along with Caleb, they ran all summer. We saw their times come down with some of the road races they ran."
Nelson said its likely Korder, Byers and Anderson head up the pack for the team. But it's certainly a different look.
"The rewarding thing for me is the kids showed up and did everything they are supposed to do," Nelson said.
When forecasting ahead, Nelson said there many possible runners in the mix to round out the top-6 varsity group. A group of juniors like Cade Walin, Clayton Bennyhoff, Hayden Wyatt, Jack Dube, Nathan Farrar, or Noah Richardson could fill the void. Or any of the mass of amount of sophomores and freshman like Aaron Freier, Andrew Farrar, Soren Toegel, could fill the empty spots.
When asked if the Wingers were in position for a fourth consecutive section championship, Nelson said the team isn't at the moment, but could build into one.
"We have a bunch of young guys and young guys progress awfully quickly," Nelson said. "I do think our lack of depth is a concern area if we're looking at being four-time section champions. We're going to have to get more out of four, five and six runners."
On the girls' side, the Winger to watch this fall is senior Grace Johnson. Last year was a tough year health-wise for Johnson. Once recovered, she improved from her time at the Alexandria Lions Meet of Champions (21 minutes, 48.3 seconds) to the state championship (18:29) almost a month later.
Johnson then capped off her fall season by winning the Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Regional with a time of 18:15.8 a week after the state meet.
Johnson also is on the Mile Split MN preseason watch list for Class AA individuals. Expectations may be high to perform, but Nelson said his expectation of her aren't results-based.
"Expectations for Grace: stay healthy and have fun enjoying leading her team," Nelson said. "The running stuff will take care of itself.
"It's just so exciting to her running healthy. She had a great summer being a leader. She took a lot of those younger girls under her wing and she really led her group this summer."
Filling in the next three varsity spots are Tori Leitner, Grace Dube and Adi Fjetland. Like the boys, the girls' team still has competition for the final two to three spots in the lineup. Nelson said Audrey Lahammer, Carolyn Hanson and even 7th grader Annika Johnson could work their way into a varsity spot.
To truly finalize the roster, Nelson said the first two, maybe three meets will provide some clarity.