Last year, cross-country in the Hiawatha Valley League was Lake City’s world and everybody else was just living in it. The Tigers swept the HVL Championship with the girls and boys teams and neither were particularly close.
This year could be an entirely different situation, however, as Lake City head cross-country coach Howie Cook is hopeful but uncertain with how his team will perform after losing a lot of top-end talent from last year.
“We graduated 11 kids and there were some important ones, particularly on our girls’ side,” Cook said. “We also had a few kids not come back so it’ll be an interesting year.”
Replicating last year’s success in which both teams made it to state will be difficult and possibly a moot point this year if the season ends without a state meet. However, Cook still expects the team to fight for the top of the conference regardless of what may loom afterwards.
To Lake City’s benefit is the participation numbers this year. Cook said although the numbers are down compared to last year, the Tigers are in better shape than some of the other area schools.
“We have decent numbers — down a little bit from last year but we could pick up a few too so we’re probably one of the bigger squads,” Cook said. “So it’ll be filling in those spots. I think we’ll be tougher than heck by the end.”
With a significant amount of turnover throughout the HVL this fall, that also means Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo, Cannon Falls and Goodhue have a good opportunity to reverse their fortunes from last year in which the schools carried the last three spots in the conference for both boys and girls teams.
Z-M/K-W returns sophomore Natasha Sortland, who finished in 78th at state last year, as well as ninth grader Preston Ohm and sophomore Kayden Rodrick who finished 45th and 57th, respectively, at the Section 1A meet. Both the girls and boys teams finished seventh in the conference one year ago.
Goodhue, which finished eighth in the HVL for the girls' team and ninth for the boys', the top returning runners are sophomore Beau Jaeger, junior Madison Betcher, and seniors Lexi Callstrom and Madison Bartholome.
Goodhue head coach Jeff Sonju is most excited about the coming of age of the runners.
“We have some kids that started out young and they’re reaching their junior and senior years right now,” he said. “We haven’t scored high in our section or conference meets, but we have steadily improved every year with this bunch and we have almost everyone back.”
Cannon Falls head coach Brett Zimmerman said he is looking forward to the team, which finished at the bottom of the pack in the conference and in the lower groupings of the section, making large strides with its veteran core.
“The boys' side is pretty loaded, there’s three seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and two ninth graders,” Zimmerman said. “It should be a good season for them.”
Zimmerman said there are currently only two varsity girls on the roster so there won’t be enough to field a team this year, although they can still compete individually this fall.
HVL season ahead
All HVL schools will be participating in a conference-only schedule this fall. Neither Z-M/K-W or Cannon Falls will host an event this year but Lake City will host four times and Goodhue twice. All meets will be limited to two or three teams maximum. Once at the meet, only 25 athletes can be on the starting line at one time so races will be held in waves.
Spectators will be allowed but are discouraged to gather around the start lines or anywhere else the athletes congregate.