(Aug. 30, 2019) Thirty-three athletes will represent the Stephen Decatur cross country program in 2019, many of whom participated last year.
Twenty boys and 13 girls are competing this season, and more than half are cross country veterans.
Coach Jody Stigler will rely on his experienced runners to lead the teams, including junior Mary Mergott and senior Sam Rakowski, who both earned All-Conference honors for their top-15 finishes in the Bayside championship last year.
Both consistently also scored points for Decatur in 2018.
Stigler has also seen senior leadership from Austin Cheynet and Mikayla Denault.
Although Avery Braciszewski and Sam Woodley are only sophomores, they were big contributors last year and Stigler will rely on them as well to help lead their respective squads.
“I feel way more qualified then I did last year,” Braciszewski said. “I’ve definitely made a lot of growth and I think I can help the newcomers to grow in their performance. I see a lot of potential in some of them that can definitely be meet as long as they have the heart.”
Her goal is to finish in the top 10 in most of the meets this season.
“And as a team, I hope that we can win a lot and score a lot of points for our school,” she said.
Woodley is also looking forward to his leadership role this year.
“After having experience on some of the courses, I think I’ll be able to run them better, and just be a role model,” Woodley said. “I think we have some potential. I think the team wants to win as many races as we can. I’m looking forward to the season, because I think we can do well.”
Stigler, now in his eighth season as coach, said the boys’ team has a bit more depth than the girls’ squad. Both teams are also relatively young, he said.
“We have more boys [running] closer together. Eight to 10 could end up being in the top seven,” he said. “Right now, we have about five girls I can count on. We have some pretty good runners, but not a whole lot of depth.
“The boys have more depth, but the girls collectively are stronger right now, but there’s not a whole lot of flexibility,” he added.
The boys’ team didn’t graduate many athletes from last season, but the girls’ squad did lose some key contributors.
Only a few weeks into the season, Stigler said it’s still early to gauge the new runners. Once they get the first meet under their belt he will have a better idea of everyone’s ability.
“It’s a large learning curve for the newcomers,” he said. “I think they’ll come along. I’ll be looking for some of them to step up and be able to contribute.”
Stigler said the goal is for the athletes to get better every day. Both teams have the potential to be atop the Bayside South this year, he added.
Decatur’s cross country program will be in the 3A South region this year, which bodes well for the group, moving out of the strong east region.
The first cross country meet is Wednesday, Sept. 11 on Decatur’s course at 4 p.m.