George Kuhter isn't worrying about the early season cross country meets.
The South Tama County cross country coach knows his teams return a handful of experienced runners, so he's looking further down the road. In fact, he's emphasizing the final three meets of the Trojans' season. Those are the conference, district and state meets that the Trojans are focused on this fall.
"I'm trying to explain the philosophy to parents so that everybody understands the philosophy," Kuhter said. "We don't have to win a meet, but what we have to do is be best at our last three meets. That's what the goal is."
Both STC cross country teams were scheduled to kick off the fall season for the school last Thursday. The meet was canceled because of the heat. STC will now start its season on Tuesday at Grinnell.
South Tama's varsity teams finished third and sixth in the NICL a year ago and sent only one runner to the state meet. Kelsey Kupka, a 2013 graduate, was the lone state qualifier for either of the Trojans' teams. The boys' team's top runner in 2012 was senior Brady Ellenbecker, who also graduated in May.
However, there is one STC runner with state experience. Senior Taylor Ellenbecker qualified for the state meet as a freshman. She returns as the Lady Trojans' top runner this fall.
Other returning varsity runners for the Lady Trojans include senior Regina Balderas, junior Naomi Hoskey and senior Erin Filloon. Junior Ericka Dunning and senior Brittany Bear will run varsity on Thursday, but will be competing for a varsity spot this fall.
The Lady Trojans have more than a half-dozen freshmen who will be battling for varsity spots this season. They include Jensen Vodochodsky, Allison Yuska, Lauren Yuska, Mallory Thede, Kaitlin Berger, Courtney Anderson, Shae Slaven and Mahala Doyle.
"There are 15 of them," Kuhter said. "On Tuesday, somebody is running in the front of the pack and leading the whole thing. Then on Thursday, another person is leading the pack. They're working hard and the nice thing is we have two full teams.
"The nice thing about cross country is they are all running the same course," he added. "They all run the same course, so it's a level playing field. If everybody stays healthy, wealthy and wise through the first couple weeks of school, we'll be all set and ready to go."
On the boys' side, the Trojans return their second, third and fourth runners from the NICL meet a year ago. Junior Robert, senior Surrell Youngbear and Keller are the leading runners heading into the season. Also competing for varsity spots will be Trevor Yuska, Hunter Filloon, Jake Theissen, Taylen Anderson, Thayne Lamb, Talon Lamb, Andrew Kajer and Britton Waldo.
"It's probably nailed down more than the girls team" Kuhter said. "The five, six and seven runners will change, but one through four should be solid."
After planning to begin the season at Marshalltown last week, the STC cross country teams were supposed to have nearly two weeks off before returning to Marshalltown on Sept. 12. Now, they will open the season at Grinnell before going to Marshalltown two days later.
"We have Thursday and then we go back there in two weeks," Kuhter said. "We will take days off after Thursday's meet and then we run at Grinnell. Then we go back to Marshalltown the week after, so we should see some vast improvement. It's one of those philosophy things. We're going to race ourselves into shape."
The Trojans host a meet at Otter Creek Lake on Sept. 16. They will compete at the NICL meet on Oct. 19 at the Oak Leaf Golf and Country Club outside of Reinbeck.
"Our goal is the same for many years - win the conference," Kuhter said. "We want to do the best we can and get as many all-conference kids as possible."