Perry boys cross country head coach Jeff Fox must replace a long-time veteran at the top of his lineup, while Jayette head coach Nathan Krohn must condition his squad for running an extra sixth-tenths of a mile every meet.
Other than that, there is little to be concerned over.
Krohn’s team faces by far the biggest change, as the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union finally joined the rest of the nation in having their varsity girls run a 5k (3.1 miles), the same distance boys teams run. The IGHSAU had for years resisted the change, mandating a 4k for Iowa girls.
The difference of 1k — or .62 of a mile — was hampering the collegiate prospects of Iowa girls harriers and was likely one of the top factors taken into consideration before the change was mandated.
“It will almost be an advantage to all the freshmen (across the state), because they have never experienced a 4k, so adding a kilometer will not be something they have to mentally adjust to, unlike the older girls, who are suddenly going to have to change their approach some,” Krohn explained. “Pretty much what it amounts to, in track terms, is adding an 800 (meter) run onto the end of a 4k. Yes, it will be a physical challenge, but I think it will be just as much a mental one, and we will see who can handle it.”
Sophomore Grace Stewart is the lead harrier for the Jayettes and Krohn believes she will have a fair chance of qualifying for the state meet.
“Right now Grace is running under 24 minutes and if I had to predict I would have to say we are going to need to find two minutes to shave,” Krohn said. “She is a hard worker and is very dedicated and I wouldn’t say I think she can do it if I didn’t believe she can.”
McKinley Thompson, Kyla Devilbiss and Alondra Rivera will also run for Perry, as will freshmen Alejandra Avila and Kat Munoz. Middle school runners Sophie Prombo and Bailey Piper have also been practicing with the squad.
Like Fox, Krohn is unsure as to just how the final roster for his harriers will look.
“We have had kids on vacation, working, or out of town, so you never know,” he said. “We sometimes pick up kids after school starts, so there could be more.”
“I am still recruiting — there is always room for more,” Fox said of his Bluejay team. “Sometimes we will have a few guys wait until school and then decide they want to give it a try.
“Cross country is very much about your inner drive,” he added. “You have to be self-motivated, you have to want to run three miles. You do not just suddenly decide ‘hey, how about running three miles today?’ It just does not work that way.”
Two seasons ago Atem Akok ran to third place at the state meet. Last year he moved out of the district, but Fox had an experienced runner he could turn to in Keegan Pfau. Now Pfau has graduated, and the veteran coach is left with an untested squad.
“We are pretty young, with a lot of new faces,” Fox admitted. “Saying that, I will add that some of these kids have it in them to be good runners.
“I can tell who worked hard over the summer,” he added. “I see guys like Jacob Prombo and Aaron Lockwood and one or two others and I can already see a difference from last year to this year.”
Bradley Godwin and Fernando Catalan are the two seniors Fox has seen this year, although one or two others may be late additions.
“I am still waiting for a leader to emerge,” Fox said. “We had a great leader last year in Zach Roberts, who gave his best at all times, led by example and never complained. We need someone to take that role and I have not seen that happen yet.
“This year will be about seeing how much improvement we can make over two months,” he said. “What I am hoping for is to see a team that gives its best effort and drops their time every time out. If that happens we will have a fun year.”
Perry opens the season on the Iowa State University course in the Gilbert Invitational Thursday, with the meet beginning at 5 p.m. The team will then take a break before returning to action September 8 at Winterset.
The team will, as usual, host but one meet — the Leon Fox Invitational. The Perry Golf and Country Club will host the meet October 1, with the first races to begin at 4:15 p.m.