With prep sports returning for the first time in more than five months, the readiness of athletes is an open question for some schools. The cross-country team in Ellsworth doesn’t qualify for that debate.

Head coach Marcie Jahnke went so far to say that her group may have come into the season more prepared than normal.

“A lot of kids on our cross-country team are also on our track team and they kind of put together a running group quite early on,” she said. “They managed to — on their own — get together a couple times a week all summer long and they ran.”

Those summer bond-building exercises are bound to pay off throughout the cross-country season as the Panthers are set to replace five runners between their two teams.

The boys’ team had the largest turnover with only three varsity returnees. One of those three, however, is 2019 state qualifier Addison Peters, who will look to improve upon his times from a year ago in his final season at Ellsworth. The Panthers also return junior Kohl Flock and sophomore Alex Pazdernik.

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“We lost some leaders from last year so right now we’re just kind of watching to see who will be establishing themselves as the guy that wants to lead this group,” Jahnke said. “There’s a lot of talent though. Pazdernik spent his summer doing the things that he needed to do to be successful.

On the girls’ side, Ellsworth returns four seniors from a year ago. Leading the group will be Ceci Groh and Sophie Vogel, who finished 27th and 41st, respectively, in sectionals last year. The two other returning seniors are Jolene Schultz and Delaney Huff.

The girls’ team also received an influx of new talent with six freshmen coming in. Two of the younger girls that Jahnke has her eye on this fall are Aubrey Wittenberg and Jocelyn Boyle.

“I’m really excited to see what this team looks like when we get into the level of fitness we need to be in,” Jahnke said. “I think we are going to be pretty impressive.”

Spring Valley returns talented group

Spring Valley is sitting fairly good with minimal roster turnover and returning both of its state entrants from a year ago.

Captains Charlie Maier and Matt Thoms will lead the way once again for the Cardinals after placing 82nd and 78th, respectively, in the state meet last year. Both were top-10 performers within the section and due to graduations at other schools, could push to be at the top of the pack this fall.

Head coach Greg Dieckman said he’s happy with the work the runners have put in over the summer. He said with the conditioning that junior Blayne Gregg has put in over the summer, he should be able to compete with Thoms and Maier.

“I had probably one of our best groups come in for their summer running,” he said. “I think they are coming into the season in really good shape, so I’m looking forward to see what they can do.”

The girls’ team returns four of its top five runners as well — a group that finished seventh in the section one year ago.

Leading the way is sophomore captain Lydia Hannack, who placed 28th in the section meet in 2019. After Hannack, Dieckman said that the other four runners on the team are close in performance and should push each other to improve.

“They’re all good runners, I really can’t say who’s gonna step up into the next spot,” Dieckman said. “

Prescott to rebuild; E-PC will rely on senior leaders

Prescott will be tasked this year with replacing state qualifier Zach Knee, as well as seven other seniors between its two teams.

With only four of the 10 top runners returning, it’ll be a tough road ahead for Prescott to advance beyond its position in the section from one year ago when the boys finished sixth and girls 12th.

Elmwood-Plum City faces the challenge of low numbers every year and this fall isn’t any different. Head coach Kristel Boyer said there are seven runners between the boys and girls this season. With such a small group, Boyer said she is leaning on the leadership of seniors Austin Bartz and Jacob Waltz.

Without any summer program, Boyer said she is pleased with the progress of the team as well as its mindset.

“It’s just nice to be outside, to be running and get the kids out of their houses and socializing a little bit even if it’s from a distance,” she said.