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Cross country preview: Raider boys are aiming high in 2012

This is a season of lofty expectations for the Hastings boys cross country team. A section title is possible, as is a trip to the state meet as a team.

The first test, though, will be a rigorous Suburban East Conference regular season and then the conference championship.

"Without question, our conference is like a little state meet," coach John Dewall said. "To place in the top three there would be great. Then, a section championship, that sounds heavy, but I think we can get a team to state. That's certainly a goal. That hasn't happened in a long time here."

The girls, meanwhile, aren't as deep but they do have some very strong top-end runners, and individual trips to the state meet are certainly possible for that group.

"I'm really excited for the season," Dewall said. "It's really fun to see an enthusiastic group of young kids. There's a solid group of young underclassmen that look really good. I don't think I've had this many kids, especially on the guy's side, who are right in the game this early in the season."


The Hastings boys will be led by three captains. They are Jake Kelly, Zack Benning and Joe Rabaey.

Kelly is a senior.

"He's a great leader," Dewall said. "He has showed a lot of leadership. He's always dedicated. He constantly strives to improve. He'll be a good role model for our kids."

Benning, a junior, qualified for the state meet as a sophomore.

"He leads by example," Dewall said. "He really helps out the young kids. He's a huge role model for them. So far, he has looked really good. The first week, he was training at altitude at Lake Tahoe. He's come back, and he looks better than ever. He's going to be a good one for us again. We're looking for a lot of good things from Zack."

Rabaey, a senior, had a very strong season last year and looks to be much improved.

"He had a stellar summer of training," Dewall said. "Oh boy, is he looking good. He could be one of the best in the state, along with Zack."

Jack Spitzack and Austin Reuter also return with varsity experience. The boys have some 20 athletes out for the team, a number that is heading in the right direction.

Dewall knew last year that a strong 2012 fall season was possible for the Raiders, but the one big variable was summer training. From what he has seen so far, Dewall is thrilled with what the runners did in the offseason.

"The guys are working hard," he said. "They look better, so far, than I thought they would. They've really put in the time. They've come in with more potential than I even expected. If they can keep it together and stay healthy and injury free, they can do a lot."

The depth of the boys team is especially encouraging to Dewall.

"You have to have depth," he said. "I don't think we've had that, to this extent, in a long, long time. It makes all of this more fun."


On the girls side, Hastings has about 10 members on the team.

The team will be led by three talented captains.

Bri Strandberg is a senior.

"She has been a leader for us for a lot of years," Dewall said. "She's always a great leader, and a great runner, too."

Michaela Mills was the team's top runner last year, and she is back for her junior season.

"She looks as strong as ever," Dewall said. "She's been training hard."

Kiki Radke, a freshman, was one of the team's top runners last year and she is a captain, too.

"They're all great leaders," Dewall said. "They have a lot of talent. All of them were our top runners last year. We're looking for them to be right in there at the conference and the section meet. We'd love to get those girls to state. We're lacking some depth, team-wise, but there's certainly a possibility that those three individuals have a shot at placing in the top 10 at the section and getting to state."


Among the top teams in the Suburban East Conference are the perennial powers from Stillwater, Roseville, Forest Lake and Mounds View.

"They're all good, though," Dewall said. "There are no weak teams in that whole conference."