SLEEPY EYE - Brianna Polesky was less than 10 seconds shy of qualifying for the state cross-country meet last season.
Polesky finished 25th out of the 132-runner field at last year's Section 2A meet for St. Mary's/Sleepy Eye/Cathedral, which was short of the 20th-place finish needed to qualify for state. She said she tried to stay in a good position during last year's race, but fell behind with the tougher competition breathing down her neck.
"I think I got a little more tired, I had a faster start than normal so I got more tired faster," said Polesky, a freshman at Sleepy Eye.
Nonetheless, Polesky will likely set the pace on the girl's team, which won the Tomahawk Conference meet last season. Determination has been a key attribute to Polesky's success in cross-country so far.
"Getting up for practice or wanting to run can be hard sometimes, especially when you're sore or just tired," Polesky said. "It helps if you have good teammates who are there to cheer you on. [You just need] a passion to run."
Sophomore Cassidy Hacker said keeping up with Polesky has been one of the goals for her and her teammates for this season.
"She's just built for running," Hacker said of Polesky. "She has good speed and has her breathing down. I need to work on my breathing a lot, because that's the main factor in my races but I have the endurance for it."
The Knights placed seventh as a team at the section meet with Polesky, Jenny Lax, Hacker, Mary Joyce and Mariah Salfer as their point scorers. Salfer is the only one who graduated, leaving a youthful core to try to lead them to another conference title.
"Seventh is the best this team has ever done," Hacker said. "We're hoping to get better than that this year and hopefully maybe make it to state."
While the girls have youth, the boy's team is lined with a group of upperclassmen who are all returning from a 16th-place finish at sections.
"We know how we did last year," said senior Stephen Joyce. "We just need each person to try to improve by however much they can."
Joyce led the Knights at last year's section meet with a 46th-place finish individually. Fellow seniors Nick DeMaris and Ruben Astorga as well as juniors Ben Jakobitz and Zac Long round out the Knights' veterans, all of whom were starters last season.
Pushing themselves is the clear solution to improving times and placings, but how will they go about doing that?
"We can't just work out the way we normally would, we're going to have to add miles at the end of routes, we're going to have to push ourselves harder in practice," DeMaris said. "Maybe outside of practice, we might have to work out a little more than we usually would. It will involve a lot of extra effort."
In a team-friendly sport such as cross-country, DeMaris said the younger runners on the boy's side play a role in pushing the upperclassmen in practice having done so himself when he was an underclassman.
Even within a team-friendly sport like cross-country, however, working on pacing for actual races in practice can be difficult.
"In practice, it's hard to get to race pace because you're not actually racing in practice, you don't have the adrenaline flow," DeMaris said. "You just have to always have that goal in mind, your eye on the prize. You've got to know what it's going to feel like when you're racing through the finish line trying to beat people.
"You've just always got to have that goal in mind. That's going to push you."
St. Mary's will begin its season at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 26, when it hosts St. Peter and St. James Area in a home meet at Eagles Park in Sleepy Eye.