PANORA — The state of the two cross country teams at Panorama could not be more different, but while that might seem to be a negative toward one squad, the reason why is more positive.
Veteran coach Greg Thompson has only four boys out for the sport, which will keep the team from scoring. They are seen as a weak link by some only because the girls team is one of the best in Iowa, no knock on the boys unit.
The Panther girls missed qualifying for the state meet last year after several consecutive appearances, but three individuals ran in Fort Dodge, and all performed well.
Senior Ella Waddle was fifth overall, with now-graduated runners occupying the four spots ahead of her. She will also be in pursuit of a second consecutive WCAC individual title. Olivia Steffen was 39th and is the 25th highest returning harrier while Payton Beckman finished 90th overall.
Senior Gwen Steffen had an injury late last season but should return to the top trio for the Panthers, with fellow senior Abby Cobb and junior Leah Fett also back for Thompson, who is in his 23rd season.
The coach noted senior Deana Solorzano, junior Laci Rishel and freshmen Mia Waddle and Avery Bahrenfuss are new additions.
Thompson noted Rishel was the No. 3 runner on the junior high state title team while Waddle is expected to be in the varsity top five and will be looked at to improve throughout the campaign. Solorzano is a former volleyball player new to cross country, with Bahrenfuss expected to continue her year-by-year improvement.
Junior Avery Norman will likely lead the Panorama boys, with seniors Conor McCarthy and Paul Hansen returning from the 2019 team as well. Freshman Ryan McCarthy is also out for the Panthers.
“Our girls team should be quite strong and will have some depth; all 10 girls will have a chance at a varsity spot,” Thompson said. “Experience will be an added strength for them since Ella Waddle and Olvia Steffen have been to three prior state meets while Gwen Steffen and Payton Beckman have run in two state meets.”
“We know there will be some new challenges and things we will have to do differently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I trust that all 14 of our athletes will make good choices and maintain good, proper hygiene habits,” he added.
Thompson pointed out that the WCAC has five teams ranked in the top 20 of either Class 1A or 2A.
“Whichever stays healthy and can successfully avoid the pandemic will be the favorite for the team title,” he said. “The boys side also has five ranked teams, including top-ranked and two-time state champion Madrid and No. 2 Earlham.”
Thompson is assisted by Sandy Leiferman and Emily Albers, who also coaches the junior high teams.
Panorama opens the season Thursday by running at the Gilbert Invite on the ISU course in Ames. They will visit Pella Sept. 5 and Greene County Sept. 10.
The Panthers host an invite on the Panora Par 3 Golf Course Sept. 17 and will also host the WCAC meet, scheduled for Oct. 15.