It’s about quantity for the Menomonie girls cross country team this season.
Without a standout leader to push for meet individual titles the Mustangs look to form a solid group of runners that can all put forth excellent times right behind the top finishers. That strategy has proven to work Menomonie in the past which included a Big Rivers Conference championship a season ago.
Craig Olson enters his 22nd season leading the Mustangs and he wants to develop strong depth. To find success he said the bottom of the varsity roster will need to outpace opponents final finishers.
“We’re always working on pace and packs because we don’t have that dominant front runner like Memorial or Hudson so we really need to get a lot out of our five, six, seven runners,” Olson said
Olson said Menomonie has eight or nine girls in the mix for the varsity lineup. Paige Anderson came in seventh in the Big Rivers championship meet last season while Maddy Palmer came in 12th and Bella Jacobson 13th. Olson expects similar performances from that top group again.
Anderson was named named first team all-conference while Palmer and Jacobson each earned second team recognition in 2018.
Ali Ruch placed 20th in the conference meet last season and she is joined by Emily Schwartz, Rachel Dietrich, Emma Mommsen, Julia Skorczewski and Maddy Klimek in providing depth for the Mustangs.
Ruch earned an honorable mention by the Big Rivers last season and Schwartz was second team all-conference in both 2016 and 2017.
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“We’ll probably have a group of four and then another group of four or five and then we’ll try to get girls from that second group into the front group,” Olson said.
Olson also feels Tegan Christensen, Hellen Chen and Lauren Berg has shown solid improvement over the summer and could have strong seasons.
Although Menomonie claimed a Big Rivers championship last year Olson knows it will be a challenge to repeat. Eau Claire Memorial and Hudson each bring back a number of all-conference runners. Both Hudson and Eau Claire Memorial placed in front of the Mustangs at sectionals last season with the Raiders advancing to the state meet.
“It’s whoever is healthy and whoever is ready to go at the end of the season and who’s sharp,” Olson said of the battle for the Big Rivers.
The Mustangs host a scrimmage next Thursday before opening the season at an invitational hosted by Eau Claire North on Sept. 7. Menomonie hosts its home invitational the following week on Sept. 14.
With so much leaning on the health of a team’s top runners Olson is hoping a strong summer of training will help develop the depth needed to withstand an injury. The team showed commitment during the offseason and that could give the Mustangs a chance to compete again for a conference championship.
“We’ve had great leadership, a lot of good summer mileage,” Olson said. “Every single girl that’s on the team, except maybe one or two put in some summer mileage this year and came and ran with the group. They’ve run a lot this summer and they’re in great shape and they’re ready to go.”