The Chi-Hi cross country team is a lot of things.

It is experienced. It is young. It has proven performers. It has new athletes with potential.

As the Cardinals and fifth-year coach Karen Swanson hit the start of the season, they do so with a squad currently in a few different places to open the season.

The girls team returns plenty of top-level experience, including first team All-Big Rivers Conference honoree and state qualifier Katie Faris, all-conference honorable mention Maisie Wingert and Hannah Sillman. The girls team is smaller than the boys in numbers, but not in experience and after finishing fifth at the conference meet a season ago, Swanson believes her team can move up the ladder in a tough league.

“A lot of our girls team is returning, which is a positive,” Swanson said. “Our girls team looks strong and we have a nice incoming freshmen (class).”

The boys team is large in numbers with more than 30 runners out for the team this fall, but enters the year without significant varsity experience. Bryce Daniels, Alan Fox and Hunter Sillman are among the top returning letterwinners but overall the race for time in the varsity lineup will be pretty hard to handicap early on in the season.

“With the boys we have a lot of new faces. We have 32 boys which is a big jump for us and we lost our #1 and #2 runners so we’re going to be struggling a little bit in the beginning but some of our beginners are looking really strong,” Swanson said.

That’s one of the many things that will make the early-season meets important for the Cardinals on the boys side as they aim for improvement as the year goes on. Chi-Hi started the season at an invitational hosted by Eau Claire North on Saturday in Eau Claire, an event Faris finished in second place at overall.

“For the girls side we’re looking to see where we are, see where other teams fall, set a goal to accomplish and go from there,” Swanson said. “The boys team is going to be a little more of a learning experience. We’re just going to take the first couple meets and learn from them and just see what we need to work on. It is a lot of new faces and some of them will not be used to running varsity.”

Chi-Hi is off until running at invitationals at Marshfield on Sept. 5, Menomonie on Sept. 9 and Rice Lake on Sept. 12. Later in the month the Cardinals host an invite of their own at Lake Wissota Golf Course on Sept. 28 with the Big Rivers Conference meet this year taking place in River Falls on Oct. 14 and Division 1 sectionals a week later in Menomonie.

The experienced and talented girls team and youthful boys team will look to be running at full speed by then. But in the first few weeks of the season, Swanson said she’s already seeing a team that wants to work hard to get better.

“There are a lot of hard working and dedicated kids that really have surprised me in the first couple workouts,” Swanson said. “With a lot of them not every running before and coming out (for cross country) and doing what they’ve been doing, that’s a positive for the upcoming season.”

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Chippewa Herald Sports Editor

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