Fall preview: cross country
John Dewall is an excitable guy. Whether it's talking about the greenhouse he oversees at Hastings High School, cross country skiing or cross country running, the guy has boundless energy.
So, you have to take that into consideration when you listen to Dewall talk about the boys cross country team he has coming out this fall at HHS. Even the most reserved coach, though, would probably be energized by this year's team.
"This is the best group of kids I've seen here in probably six or seven years," Dewall said. "I totally have high expectations. They are all running together. There's a whole group of them that is right together, and they are coming in to the season in shape. That's the big thing.
"They all worked hard in the offseason."
Dewall is optimistic concerning the girls team, too. They just don't have the same number of strong returners as the boys.
There are 35 athletes out for the team.
"It's a fun group, from what we have seen so far," Dewall said. "It's a real motivated group."
Captains for the boys are Jake Rachuy, Colby Smith, Zack Benning and Riley Tarrant.
Rachuy is a senior, but is only in his second year of running cross country.
"Jake is a great leader," Dewall said. "He has really stepped up this year to make things happen for the kids. Right away, he stepped in to that leadership role. He leads by example. No question."
Smith, a sophomore, had a strong season last year and hopes to improve upon those successes.
"He's just a super, super hard worker,"
Dewall said. "He's a motivated kid, and he's a great leader by example. We're really looking forward to having him as one of our captains."
Benning, too, had a strong year last fall for the Raiders.
"He was our top runner last year - it was always between him and Colby," Dewall said. "He's a big leader, too, and motivated."
Joe Rabaey returns this season, coming off a strong track season this spring.
"He had a great track season," Dewall said. "He's going to be really tough."
Andy Rachuy and Brian Rachuy have also joined the team.
"Both those kids have shown a lot of potential in the first week of practice," Dewall said. "They're looking awesome."
Depth is something that is eluding the Hastings girls team.
"It will be interesting to see where we go with the girls," Dewall said. "We just need some more depth there."
Bri Strandberg is a captain for the girls team.
She has been the team's top runner for the past two seasons and will be challenged by a young group of athletes to hold on to that title this fall.
"She's right there, no doubt," Dewall said. "She's always in good shape. That's someone you don't have to worry about."
Juliann Moes is also a captain, but hurt her knee this summer and is out indefinitely.
Kiki Radke and Kailee Harrington are runners who competed for the middle school team last year. They're out on varsity this fall and should help with that depth.
Helen Jensen returns from a strong 2010 campaign on the varsity team.
Rachel Peterson and Michaela Mills are right there, too, Dewall said.
Getting as many girls to run at the front of the pack with Strandberg as possible is the key to this year's season, Dewall said.
"The goal is to develop a good, strong cluster of kids that are going to be up there running with Bri," Dewall said. "Bri can pull some of those younger kids along. Some of these kids could surprise the heck out of you. You just don't know yet.
"From what I have seen, there are some athletes in the mix. If you get an athlete like that and get some conditioning under their belts, they can surprise not only the coaches, but probably themselves, too."
For both the boys and the girls, the Suburban East Conference is a challenging one.
"It's like a mini state meet," Dewall said. "You run in that conference meet, and it's like running in the state meet."
East Ridge, Stillwater and Mounds View are among the top teams, but they're not the only strong ones.
"They all have some stars, is what it comes down to," Dewall said. "You've got a real balanced conference. Our goal is to run the best we can and be competitive. I'd just like to see us place up near the top of the conference. We've got some work to do for that."