NEW ULM - One season after winning a conference title, the Minnesota Valley Lutheran girl's cross-country team heads into this fall without losing anyone to graduation.
That success is something first-year coach Nicole Lehman hopes will rub off on the boy's team, which goes into this season without any seniors and two returning runners.
"The girls have motivation to try and beat the boys and the boys don't want to get beat by girls," Lehman said. "They have that extra push to work hard."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Key returning runner for the Minnesota Valley Lutheran Cross Country team are senior Cheyenne Bjorklund (left) junior Peter Finken and senior Talia Otto.
After practicing separately under two different coaches last season, the boys and girls are both being coached by Lehman, who will teach math at Minnesota Valley Lutheran after having spent three years teaching English in China.
The boy's two returning runners - junior Peter Finken and sophomore Jacob Grefe - will be guiding the team's seven freshmen, who will be contributing times in every meet this season in some form or another.
"There's a lot of potential on the team," Finken said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do this year."
The girl's team, on the other hand, has six returning seniors from last year's conference title squad, including Talia Otto and Cheyenne Bjorklund.
Winning the conference meet was a satisfying feat, but the girl's team is hoping to go even further this season.
"All of us really would like to [go to state]," Bjorklund said. "Last year we got fourth at sections and you need to get first or second and we were so close. We haven't lost anybody, so we should be able to at least get the same [result] or better."
Even though the boys and girls compete separately, Lehman's effort in unifying the teams has had its benefit both athletically and socially.
"Last year we felt kind of separated and this year we're all together, so we get to know each other better," Otto said. "Last week we had a 'get to know you' run so then we could meet all of the new freshmen."
Even though cross-country is typically seen as an individually based sport, the team aspect still remains an important factor for success.
"It's good to have the numbers," Finken said. "We can always push each other as a team. We always strive to be better, strive to be like the person in front of us.
"If you're a teammate kind of struggling, you can have other people help you and you can build off of them."
Another aspect that is new to this year's training is the weight training regimen Lehman has installed for her athletes. The program is not intended to bulk the runners up, but rather to tone them for the grueling season ahead of them.
"I'm hoping by the end of the season you'll definitely see that their bodies aren't wearing out on them and they're staying strong throughout the year," Lehman said.
Bjorklund said there has yet to be a noticeable difference from the weight training since the teams have only been partaking in it for a couple days, but it should be more noticeable in a couple weeks.
The Chargers will begin their season on Aug. 27 at Mankato East. The first race will begin at 4 p.m.