Panther cross-country squad gears up for fall season | SkyHiNews.com

Panther cross-country squad gears up for fall season

Middle Park High School's cross-country team will officially kick off their competative season this Friday with a race in Grand Junction.

Middle Park High School's fall cross-country season kicks off Friday as the Panther runners make their way to Grand Junction to race against other western slope teams at the Grand Junction Tiger Invitational.

This Friday's cross-country race will be the first of eight regular season races the Panthers will participate in before, hopefully, heading to the state tournament later this fall. Head cross-country coach Scott Hicks highlighted several upcoming races that he felt were significant in this year's schedule including the Moffat County Invitational in Craig on Sept. 29 and the looming league race, scheduled to be held in Leadville this year, and regionals, which will be held in Aspen rather than Delta, where it has been held in previous years.

"That should be a big advantage for us," Hicks said referencing the two race locations in the high Rockies. "It is high elevation and the mountain courses are a bit more rugged."

Hicks said he believes Middle Park High School's runners live and train at the highest elevation of any team within the Panther's respective comparative region.

Hicks called his current roster of 20 student athletes a "learning group" and noted the team contains a high percentage of freshman runners and members who are new to competitive long distance running.

"We have leaned a lot already," Hicks said. "It is a youthful team and they are learning a lot about the training process. We have a lot of new faces. This is probably the biggest freshmen class I have had in a long time."

Just over half of the 20 runners, 11 in total, are returning members of the Panther cross-country squad. Hicks highlighted the impacts of losing last year's senior class, with five runners graduating, but said he expects great leadership from the current upper classmen and a lot of enthusiasm from his younger athletes.

"With the freshmen talent we have they will be able to pick up where we left off last year," Hicks said referencing the girls side of the team. "Hopefully we can be one of the better teams at league and I think we will be stronger than we have been the last couple of years between who we have coming back and who is coming onto the team."

Hicks specifically highlighted Liz Barker, and the team's two Friesen sisters and Selena Stoncius as runners he is hoping to see big things from this year.

On the boy's side of things Hicks noted the team has gone through a big shakeup over the offseason following the departure of graduating seniors.

"Brevik (Petersen) will probably return as our number one runner. Aaron Sanders is returning as a top five runner along with Dylan Cormican," Hicks said. "After that we have a really good group of guys who have been training together through the early season who should compete to fill out the rest of the varsity roster."

Hicks added that he believes the team is meshing together well thanks in large part to the leadership of several seniors who "have done a really nice job of trying to embrace the team mentality."

"The leadership we have this year is a more mature," Hicks said. "The seniors this year are really taking it (leadership) to the next level."