The seniors on both the girls' and boys' East Ridge track and field teams knew this season was going to rely on leadership.
There were many seniors that graduated last season, and the handful of seniors left on the team this season are committed to finishing their high school careers on a high note.
The good part is that the seniors all agreed that the Raptors continue to grow each day. They hope it leads to strong meets throughout the season and gets them ready for the most important meets, sections and potentially state.
"We have a very young team," said Morgan Werner. "But everyone is ready to work, which shows in meets throughout the season."
The Raptors are bringing back some key returners. On the boys' side, Alec Wittman is returning to defend his state title in the pole vault. He's been focused this summer on perfecting his craft, and feels confident in his abilities this upcoming season.
"Everyone worked hard this offseason to get ready for the track season," Wittman said. "I'm confident that we'll continue to grow and have some strong scores along the way."
The boys will also return two of the four sprinters in their state relay teams. The Raptors placed second in the 4x200-meter relay and Jerald Hall and Philip Gramer return for their senior years.
The 4x400 relay is the other team that placed third at state. Wittman and Gramer will be the returning two runners for that race.
The girls will also be bringing back some runners in their state relay teams as well. Two sisters, Mackenzie and Morgan Werner, will be the two returning from the 4x200 relay team that placed eighth at state.
"We have a lot of sprinters coming up, so we're looking forward to seeing how they do on the shorter races," said Gaosou Yang.
There will be many unknowns to begin the season for East Ridge, but the seniors are hoping to teach the younger people the traditions and expectations of the program.
Raptor fans can expect to see many new faces, but the same level of talent as past years. Ultimately, they want to see themselves at the state meet at the end of the year and competing for a state title.
"It would be great to see a lot of us reach the state meet," said Mackenzie Werner. "I know that's everyone's goal, so hopefully we can have many people represent East Ridge there."
The Park track and field program continues to grow each year and both the boys and girls are excited to have different skills to fill each of the events this upcoming season.
"Everyone has been working really hard to start this season and it shows in their times to begin the season," said girls head coach Matt Maher. "Hopefully we can continue taking steps in the season and reach the goals we've set out for the season."
The Wolfpack are looking to send track and field athletes to the state meet this season. The girls didn't have anyone reach that meet, while the boys had one senior that graduated last year.
A handful of athletes are coming back from injuries, and there are also some newcomers. The coaches are excited to teach these kids and help them throughout the season.
"There's a mixture of older and younger people on the team," said Isiah Dancy. "We're hoping to teach these younger runners the expectations and traditions with Park track and field."
The girls' team has 15 seniors and Maher is looking to those seniors to guide the younger kids and show them what it takes to compete at the varsity level.
That jump to varsity can be scary, especially with the talent Park faces in each invitational, so the senior girls want to make sure the younger runners are comfortable and prepared for the upcoming season.
"We try to help every day in some way or another with the younger runners," said Tori Simmons. "It's been fun seeing these girls grow each day and it only makes us excited for the upcoming season."
Park will be looking to send a handful of runners to the state meet this season. The journey is long to reach that point, but both coaches are confident in their teams to have a strong 2019 season.
"Each person has been developing fast whether it's track or field events," said boys' head coach Mike Moran. "It'll be fun to see them compete at meets throughout the season."
New Life Academy
A few years ago, New Life Academy had a large number of boys compared to girls on the track and field team. Now, that has switched with girls having more numbers than boys.
Either way, head coach Kristen Hawkins is excited about this season because she has seen these juniors and seniors develop since seventh or eighth grade when Hawkins took the position at New Life.
"It's been fun to see them grow each season and now they are juniors and seniors," Hawkins said. "Hopefully, they can reach their individual and team goals this season."
There are many upperclassmen on the two teams this season, but Hawkins also said there's younger runners behind them that will continue to make this program dominant.
She's hoping for many of the athletes to reach the state meet individually and could see the girls' team reaching higher scores during the season.
On the girls' side, the Eagles will be led by junior Hannah George, senior Emily Bakken, senior Robin Ahlquist and sophomore Cara Grohn. Those four had strong results to start the season at Faribault in its invitational a couple of weeks ago.
The boys may have a smaller team, but Hawkins said they have plenty of people that will be leaders and top performers for the Eagles.
Juniors Isaiah Avery and Alex Borner are two that will be looked at for the track events this upcoming season. The Eagles also have freshman Simon Swenson who placed second in the high jump at the Faribault Invitational and has continued to progress each day at practice.
"I'm excited to see what everyone can do this season," Hawkins said. "It's been a strong few weeks since we started practice and everyone wants to get better each day, which is always great to see."
Math and Science Academy
Math and Science Academy students always look forward to the track and field season in the spring. After the cross-country season comes to a close, that's the next season they always look forward to during the winter months.
Now that the spring season has hit, the Dragons are excited to get back outside and start working for another run to the state meet.
"We've had a strong turnout for kids this season and it's great to see the range of grades coming out for the team," said coach Heath Anderson. "We had a great season last year and we're looking to build upon it this season."
Tierney Wolfgram finished third in the 1,600-meter run in last year's state meet for the Dragons while the boys' 4x800 relay team finished first at state last season. Three out of the four boys graduated last spring, so junior Harris Anderson is the lone runner back from that team.
"We hope each runner achieves their individual goals this season," said coach Alex Brault. "We think many of these runners could make a strong run to the state meet with how hard they're working since the beginning of this season."
Along with a strong 2019 season, the coaches and runners are looking into the future with a strong program ahead.
"We only graduate a couple runners this upcoming spring," said Shannon Koperski. "It means that we can learn this upcoming season and continue to grow in the future seasons ahead."
The coaches and runners understand that this season will be tough with the invitationals they're competing in, but they also know it'll be the best competition for them heading into the last part of the season in sections.
The Dragons want to be running their best times when the section meets hits because they want to fight for a spot in the state meet in the early part of June.
"We have been working hard to begin this season," said William Mattes. "We know that hard work will pay off during the regular season into the end of the season for us."