Girls Cross Country: Warriors looking for strong finish
The good news is the Brainerd Warriors have a healthy head coach back this year.
The bad news is they lost state qualifying runner Lily Schaeffer to soccer.
The hope is a cancer-free Dave Herath will help offset the loss of the team's top runner from last year and result in a fast-improving young squad.
Despite the loss of Schaeffer and the graduation of Emily Rugloski and Molly Selisker, Brainerd does return Grace Erholtz, Payton Lillo and Ellie Selisker from last year's Central Lakes Conference meet. Throw in sophomore Emma Storbakken from the Section 8-2A meet and Brainerd has a nucleus to build around.
"Lily went out for soccer this season and she's had so many issues with her knees and pain she just decided to take the season off and hopefully get done growing," Herath said. "We hope to get her back. That's a big hole to fill."
Brainerd will look to fill it with senior veteran Grace Erholtz who was 27th in the conference at 21:15 and 44th in the section last year at 22:06.
Freshman Payton Lillo was 33rd in the conference and 56th at sections, while Selisker posted a 40th-place 22:32 at the conference meet and a 23:07.1 at sections. Storbakken posted a 23:56 in the section meet.
Add senior captain Carson Blegen into the mix and Herath believes the recipe for late-season success is there.
"Of the girls coming back, both Grace and Carson are really looking good," Herath said. "We've got a number of younger girls out that really look strong, too. It will be kind of an interesting season. I don't know that we'll start off quite as well as we did last year, but hopefully, we finish real strong.
"It's a smaller group. I think we're only 13 girls strong so we're hoping to fix that a little bit for the coming years. Our junior high numbers are strong, but we just have a couple of our upper classes have been a little bit small."
The start of the season will also be different in that Brainerd will not host the Run for the Melon event this year. Instead, Brainerd opted to compete at the Thief River Falls Invite Thursday, Aug. 30, as that's the site of this year's section meet. The rest of Brainerd's schedule remains the same.
Also different will be some of the younger names filling out the Warriors' varsity roster.
Junior Merriam Schmitz and sophomore Haley Pickar will compete with freshmen Abby Dahl, Ally Giza and Jordyn Marsh for the three remaining spots.
"The majority of the older girls came in with their summer mileage where we want it and so it's just building off of that," Herath said. "The big part is gaining the confidence to be a front-runner, and again, we've had some terrific teams come out of our section the last several years so that's a daunting field to be against, but with the girls, we'll just take it one step at a time.
"Right now we're just working on getting them comfortable running at a fast pace and as the season goes on we'll start racing at that pace. It's going to be a learning process for them."
Herath has an optimistic goal in mind for the Warrior girls, but he's hesitant to say it because he's unaware of what other teams in the section have coming back. He does believe, with the right amount of work and dedication, this squad should be a top half of the section team.
And Herath has reason to be optimistic. Tuesday, Aug. 28, he was given a clean bill of health by his doctors at Mayo Clinic and will be back to full time.
"It feels good to put that behind me a little bit," Herath said. "My assistants Carl (Schirmer) and Owen (Trout) did just an amazing job last year. They sure took over and did their best to get the kids prepared.
"As always, this is a great group of kids to work with. They aren't afraid to work hard. You don't come out for cross country expecting it to be easy, but I've been very, very happy, particularly with our younger runners. They're willing to put the effort out there and then we have our upperclassmen, who are willing to be very good leaders."
- Aug. 30: at Thief River Falls Invite 10 a.m.
- Sept. 6: at Greenway Invite 4 p.m.
- Sept. 13: Lucky Lindy Invite at Little Falls 3:50 p.m.
- Sept. 17: at Pierz Stampede 4 p.m.
- Sept. 29: U of M Invite at Les Bolstad Golf course 9 a.m.
- Oct. 4: Ranger Invite at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge 3 p.m.
- Oct. 9: at St. Cloud Invite 3:30 p.m.
- Oct. 16: Central Lakes Conference meet at Willmar 4 p.m.
- Oct. 25: Section 8-2A meet at Thief River Falls 3:30 p.m.
- Nov. 3: State meet at St. Olaf College, Northfield 2 p.m.