The Waukee boys’ cross country team sets out this fall with high expectations.
The Warriors have qualified for three consecutive state meets, and have run in six of the last seven. They bring back five harriers from last year’s squad that placed seventh, the team’s best finish in five seasons.
The returning roster includes Noah Larrison, who was 30th overall, and Ryan Tunink, who was 41st, each of whom qualified individually for state. Also back from that team are Brennan Borgestad, Mohad Awan and Austin Krohnke, who helped the team to a second-place finish in the conference meet and a victory in the state-qualifying competition.
Also returning are letterwinners Henry Oberman and Nathan Schaffer. Coach Josh Maxwell said some runners have made huge gains over the course of the summer.
“This program has several guys who have made gains, just this summer since track, that I would hope for over a course of a half year in training, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we have some guys step up and contend for varsity spots that weren’t near the varsity level a year ago, let alone three to four months ago,” said Maxwell, the team’s fifth-year head coach. “Once it gets clicking, the sky becomes the limit.”
The team has a close bond forged that has been forged not during season competition, but during practice sessions throughout the year.
“It’s not necessarily the time during the season that has brought these guys close,” Maxwell said, “but the time (they’ve spent) together when it is 20 degrees out with 20-mph winds in their faces, or the time it is 100 degrees: That brings a respect of one another and a trust with it so when it is race time, they know what has been accomplished to get to the starting line to race at a high level.”
The team’s strength has been its pack running. At last year’s state meet, all seven Waukee runners finished within 40 seconds of each other, the smallest window of any of the Class 4A schools competing. That aspect figures to be present again this fall, but Maxwell is hoping that some of his runners will emerge to lead the team.
“We are very much a ‘pack team’ and that is a great racing tactic, but until we have front-runners we will be chasing the top teams in the state,” he said.
Those top teams include defending champion Dowling Catholic, which graduated five seniors from last year’s team but be in the hunt again this year.
“Dowling graduated many guys, but until someone starts beating them they are the favorite,” Maxwell said.