The cross country season is heavily based off of last year’s track season as runners look to build off of the times they earned last spring. Although the team could not report until August, runners trained throughout the summer to keep their endurance up to stay in tip-top shape for the coming fall season.
“We made some pretty significant improvements from the school year last year,” head coach Nate Houle said, adding that he expects to see progression across the board for the cross country season. “We are going to be at a different level this fall than where we entered last year.”
Although the runners are split into two different teams by gender, the entire team travels to meets together, trains together and is coached together. However, they are scored separately.
The women’s team will have to do without three main contributors this season, Katie Nicholls, Kylie Hutchison and Sasha Kent and will look to have an injury-free season, something Hutchison was unable to avoid last year.
Senior Kylie Hutchison, a Pocatello native and Highland High School alum, was lost for the majority of last season and was unable to obtain a medical redshirt for a fifth season.
Nicholls, Kent and Hutichson were not the only seniors lost to graduation.
“Having lost (Nichols, Kent and Hutichon), at least for cross country will be somewhat significant for us this fall,” Houle said, adding that he believes the team will still be able to succeed.
The men’s side should see more leadership this season than in years past.
Now entering his second season, Houle knows his team.
“For me, it has been nice to get to know them,” Houle said. “I was kind of entering blind last season.”
Although the four lost seniors of Jacob Campbell, KC Hunsicker, Jake Meeker and Dallin Webb will be missed, another host of seniors is ready to step up in their place.
“I think we’ll have some solid leadership upfront,” Houle said. “People now understand what my system looks like, feels like and I think now they have bought into it.”
Ty James and Wyatt Didericksen will lead the way with that new leadership role.
“They will be a great one-two punch,” Houle said. “Working together, I think those two can really elevate the team.”
James and Didericksen are both runners that Houle sees great potential in, even going as far to say that they may have a shot at being top ten in the conference. “This conference is really, really good, so we’ll see if they can stay healthy and if it shakes out.”
Last season was what Houle called a trial period, a year where the players see what is expected of them while the coach can see what he can expect from his players.
Now, the expectations are set, and they are high.
The previous summer, players came in not knowing what to expect and may not have been in as good of shape as Houle had hoped, but the new year brings new expectations and the runners did not miss the mark this time.
“This summer was a much higher quality summer than before,” Houle said. “This fall, I think that will show very quickly.”
As both teams operate on the same schedule, the leadership will leak over into the women’s side as well.
Without Nicholls and Kent leading the way, the runners will have to look to somebody during that last mile and having strong leadership on the men’s side will in no way hurt the women’s team.
Even without Hutichson, depth will be the strength for the women. The top five runners provide greater depth than in the previous season.
With the addition of Jenica Dodge, a junior college transfer who is running 17 minute 5Ks, Persil Hutchison and senior Carly Hanson, the women’s team looks to have a lethal depth to it.
“There is a top three right there that could rival almost any team in the conference,” Houle said. “We could be really, really good on the women’s side if the pieces shake out.”
The Bengals will open with a dual meet in Pocatello against Southern Utah Sept. 2.