Here’s a look at how each team stacks up this fall
Head Coach: Scott Przystas
Last Year: finished third in the O-K Red, second at regionals, 12th at Division 1 state meet
Players to Watch: junior Gabby Hentemann (All-Conference, All-Region and All-State in 2016), junior Kelsie Bovee (All-Conference in 2016), junior Abby Buitenhuis, senior Emily Mattson, junior Kelsie McManus, junior Giovana Maracek, sophomore Jenna Ray, sophomore Meadow White, senior Julia Drabczyk and junior Brianna Jhamb.
“This is a good-looking group on paper right now, but we are only a week into the season,” said Przystas. “We have a lot of veteran runners at the top of our lineup who have continued to progress in the program from a freshman runner to now getting a shot at varsity competition. They have gotten stronger and built their mileage and are now ready to be varsity runners.
“It is really exciting for me as a coach to see this progression and what the girls were like as freshmen coming in and getting their feet wet to now watching Emily and Julia be at the top. Our junior class is very talented and has been committed since Day 1 of their freshmen year. Gabby has played a big part in that, showing girls what is possible when you put your time and effort into the sport.
“Our goals this year are to compete for a conference championship. I like our chances with what we have coming back. We just need to make sure we stay healthy and show up ready to compete on those jamboree days. I also think we can contend for a regional championship. Again, with whom we have coming back and who is in our regional, I think we are capable of being at the top of the region. And then at the end of the season, we want to crack the top 10 at the state meet. Last year, we were in 12th place and only seven points out of the eighth spot, so we know we belong up there. It is just a matter of coming prepared each day at practice and being ready to work.”
“I think West Ottawa will be one of the best teams in the conference. They return their top five runners from a second-place O-K Red group, and they are all good runners. Rockford will also contend for another conference championship. They return a majority of their varsity runner, as well.
“This group of Buccaneer runners has what it takes to win some championships. We have a good mix of older returning runners and varsity runners who have been with us just a year. There is also the unknown of what freshmen might crack the varsity group, which is going to make our top seven runners competitive. The core we have is really solid. They have put in the work since June and that dedication has carried on into the season. I feel really good about where we are at, and I am excited to see what they can accomplish.”
Head Coach: Aaron Andres
Last Year: finished third in the O-K Blue, fifth at regionals
Key Returners: senior Maddy Windberg, sophomore Julia Bajt, junior Kate Gilchrist, sophomore Maggie Cooper, sophomore Taylor Rebone, sophomore Eva Tilton and sophomore Rose Henke.
Key Newcomers: freshmen Jaynie Seylhower and Chloe Lohman
“We are excited to have our top 10 returning runners from last season,” said Andres. “Our team is still on the younger side, but with strong senior leadership and with a year of experience, our group is looking to make a move in our conference and at the regional. Our goals are to compete for the O-K Blue Championship and to make it to the state meet as a team.
“I am really excited to see what this group can do this fall. We really do have a group effort this season as our top 12 girls are only seconds apart in times and with a couple of freshmen looking to get into the top seven. That is something we haven't had in the 10 years I've been coaching. It will really be a fun season, and I think there is a lot of potential with this group.”
Head Coach: Randy Johnson
Last Year: finished sixth in the O-K Blue, sixth at the GMAA city meet, eighth at regionals
Key Returners: Kendra Johnson and Faith Clark
Key Newcomers: Sydney Bol, Kristen Lord and Abby Sykes
“Our team goal this year is to move up one spot in the conference standings,” said Johnson. “The girls have the talent to do so, but they will have to work hard and stay healthy. There is no clear-cut favorite in our league, but Reeths-Puffer and Jenison will probably be the frontrunners.
“This group has worked extremely hard over the summer and hopefully we can improve both individually and as a team this fall.”
WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN
Head Coach: Kevin Aardema
Last Year: finished second in the Lakes Eight, fourth at the GMAA city meet, won Division 4 regionals, finished ninth at the Division 4 state meet
Key Returners: seniors Emma Brink, Ellie DeKam and Chantelle Wilkinson; juniors Josie Aardema and Sarah VanderKooi; sophomores Priscila Esteva, Chloe Kozal and Emma Visker.
Key Newcomer: freshman Natalie Riksen
“The WMC girls cross country program is coming off their best season in school history and hopes to continue that success,” said Aardema. “ We return five of the seven varsity runners from last fall, but will miss our No. 1 and 4 runners who both graduated and are running in college now. There are several promising new runners who hope to fill those varsity spots. Our goal is to win regionals again, improve on our ninth-place finish at the Division 4 state meet, and have fun.”