South Tama County's cross country teams will have their work cut out for them at the first few meets of the season, but at the end, they hope to be competing at the state meet.
The Trojans open their season with two meets in Marshalltown, two weeks in between each meet, against some of the toughest competition in the state. The first meet begins at 4:30 p.m. Thursday near the Marshalltown Community College campus.
"We go into this meet a little overshadowed," coach George Kuhter said. "It's a good meet, because we have to go out and just run. It's getting pretty boring running around here. It will be a nice change of pace."
South Tama's runners have been practicing for two-and-a-half weeks. Some of the Trojans entered the season with a base of running from the summer. During the past three weeks, both teams have been working to get in shape for the fall season.
STC's runners have been meeting in the morning. It's worked out well for the runners, who have been busy with other activities in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year.
"With the kids as busy as they are, we're just practicing in the mornings," Kuhter said. "Everybody is either at work, band camp, state fair and other things. In all, I think we had two or three kids attend every practice."
Although he isn't sure if his teams are in good enough shape to compete well at the first few meets, Kuhter is optimistic about the runners' preparations.
"The goal was to get as close to 70 miles for the big group, 50 for the small group and 35-40 for the others," Kuhter said. "We got there yesterday. We put on a lot of miles this week and I wanted to do that because we have a meet next week.
"We still need to get some speed work in, but the nice thing about our schedule is we run Thursday and then we go back in two weeks," he said. "We will be able to see how much we are improving. The really nice thing is we race against Webster City in our first meet and our second-to-last meet, so we can see how much we've improved compared to them."
Neither STC team returns anyone who competed at the state meet last fall, which is only the second time that's happened during Kuhter's seven years as head coach. They lost seniors, who led the team on the course and with leadership. This year's squads each have a handful of runners back from a year ago, so Kuhter is hopeful for the team's success.
The boys' squad will have five runners competing on varsity at Thursday's meet, while the rest of the team will be running in the junior varsity race. The five varsity runners will be Brady Ellenbecker, Robert Tyynismaa, James Norton, Taylen Anderson and one more runner that Kuhter hasn't decided upon.
South Tama's girls' team also returns many runners. The six varsity runners for Thursday's meet will be Taylor Ellenbecker, Kelsey Kupka, Regina Balderas, Naomi Hoskey, Erin Filloon and Tasha Musgrave.
"The thing that we are missing from last year is leadership," Kuhter said. "We had Katelyn and Sam, who were our girl leaders, and Brandon Nelson, who led by example. This year we have Brady leading the boys and then it's a battle to see who is going to lead the girls. On one side, we have Taylor Ellenbecker, who was a state qualifier as a freshman, and on the other side is Kelsey Kupka, who is a quiet leader. It will be interesting to see what happens."
Temperatures are predicted to stay in the lower 80s for the rest of the week. The cooler temperatures during the early season are odd and Kuhter wishes it was hotter.
"The fun thing about it is the kids have to work their butts off in the heat," Kuhter said. "Then they get used to it and then the cool weather comes this early. Then they forget everything you teach them, like drinking enough water, eating properly and that other stuff. We will get back into the 80s later on in the season and I'm sure we'll have a spurt of summer during the season."
Any local fans wanting to see the Trojans run can watch them host a meet at Otter Creek Park on Sept. 10. Thursday's meet in Marshalltown will start at 4:30 p.m. with the JV girls race.