Cross country is a numbers sport. There's miles run. There's splits and finishing times. There's finding who is ready to be among the top seven runners and compete on varsity.
For Andy Powell, head coach of the boys team at Chanhassen High School, he's had the luxury of knowing what to expect from his top runners the last few years. It's been working on that next group to tighten the gap.
While seniors Nick Scheller and Zach Long figure to be near the top again, look for Chanhassen to have its most solid five in three years, contending for a spot in the state tournament as a team again.
"Our season should be an exciting one. The team, overall, is not being mentioned among the best, but I truly believe we have the talent and depth to make some noise," Powell said. "No one is stronger at the top with our two exceptional seniors, and juniors Ben Scheller, Ben Spenler, Tyr Christianson, and Justin Roemer have put in a lot of work and are ready to do some good things."
Ben Scheller, among that group, seems ready for a big breakthrough after posting a career-best effort at the Section 2AA Meet last October.
Powell looks to two sophomores, Jack Olsen and Ryan Stratton, as runners that will factor into the varsity at some point this season.
Nick Scheller may start the season ranked No. 1 in Class AA, the highest returning finisher after placing fifth at state as a junior in a time of 15 minutes, 29 seconds.
The Class of 2019 was a strong one with nine of the top-12 runners having graduated.
"He had a late injury issue that cost him a bid for a championship in track, but if not for a tough draw in sections where he was narrowly edged out, he would have likely finished on the podium in both the 1,600 and 3,200," Powell said. "He is exceptionally talented, but it’s his work ethic and commitment to improvement that really set him apart. He is capable of winning any meet on our schedule, but nothing will come easy as we race an elite field all season and there are some very strong runners who will be battling all fall. No matter what the results he will have an outstanding future as evidenced by his recruitment by the best programs in the nation."
Long missed back-to-back running seasons his sophomore year, returning to the line-up last fall where he placed 84th at state.
Fully healthy, a summer of training under his shoes, expect Long to improve on his 2018 finishes.
For the first time since his 10th grade season Zach has been able to train fully and he is poised for some excellent results. I see him everyday and watch him match Nick’s workouts and have no doubt that he is among the state’s best. With his return to health I expect him to have a very strong season. Both Nick and Zach are physically stronger after much work this summer and are ready to lead the Storm," Powell said.
While both Scheller and Long have left huge marks on the program already, the best is yet to come.
"I have been blessed to coach some outstanding runners in my career, and there’s no doubt Nick and Zach are on the short list of two of my best ever. They are also men of high character and are great students and role models. I’m truly excited to see what they’ll do this season," the coach said.
Chanhassen's first meet is a bit later this season at Gale Woods in Minnetrista at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5. And, yes, County Road 44 means closed south of Mound.
THAT 1-2 PUNCH
Athletes come into a program, and then they leave. New ones join. The cycle repeats.
For Anita Woodrow, the past 10 years as head coach of the girls cross country, the constant has always been "team-first."
"This group of girls seem to really mesh well, and I am hoping that will translate into great results for us in races. Our four senior captains -- Elle Wagner, Megan Hakanson, Madeleine Maravigli, and Aaliyah Cox -- are naturally quieter people, but they have done a great job at reaching out to include the newcomers to the program, cheering them on, and pushing them through workouts," Woodrow said.
Performance wise, Chanhassen hopes to finish in the top-three in a stronger than ever Metro West Conference Championship field that features talented teams in Bloomington Jefferson and St. Louis Park.
Woodrow also envisions advancing at least two athletes onto state.
Junior Meghan Pierson figures to be one of the runners. All-State in 2018, Pierson missed the entire spring track season with injury. That paved the way for Isabella Roemer to make big strides, coming close to a spot in state in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
"Izzy has really come along since last season. Over the winter last year, she put in a bunch of miles and really found confidence to put herself into a position to compete with the 'big dogs' during the 2019 track season. Right now, she and Meghan Pierson will be a phenomenal 1-2 punch, as they are working out side by side each day, pushing each other," Woodrow said.
The program is seeing additional numbers with seventh and eighth graders now training with the high school athletes.
While most aren't ready to claim top-seven spots on varsity, it does prepare them for what it will be like when they are.
"It gives us the opportunity to help build them into the program and also possibly use them in our line-ups as the season progresses and we see that they can tolerate the 5K distance (vs. 1.5-2 mile middle school race distances). I see these girls being great contributors to our program for years to come!" the coach said.
Chanhassen opens the season at the Section 2AA course, Gale Woods, on Sept. 5. The Storm figure to be in mid-season training form by then.
"I am really looking forward to seeing how our 3-9 (runners) stack out in a race situation. Right now, they are working out together in a great pack, but what we have talked about is a pack is great at times, but where that pack is within a race is what really matters," Woodrow said. "I look forward to seeing who allows themselves to be an alpha and take charge of the pack (or even break away), knowing that it will help the team in the end."