Coming into the 2012 cross country season, the Marshall boys' and girls' squads are poised to remain atop the Southwest Conference, but have their eyes on a higher goal at the same time.
"Our goals never change," said Marshall boys head coach Mike Jacobs. "Our goals are always to win the conference, to advance to state and do as well as we can. And if not advancing to state as a team, certainly get some individuals in there."
"I'm confident they are going to be very, very good," said Marshall girls head coach Marie Sample. "What I've seen the last eight days of practice has been amazing. I'm starting to see some serious dedication from them."
The boys return several runners from last year's section runner-up team and are set up much like the 2011 team.
"What I like is we're not a clone of last year but we are pretty close," Jacobs said. "We now have (Andrew) Bell, (Tanner) Bukowski and (Blaine) Moran. They are relatively close to where Chad (DeAustin), Grant (VanKeulen) and Andrew (Bell) were at the start of last season.
"We have another big step like we did last year, we drop off to Wade DeAustin and Mike Larson. ... We have this young guy John Botsford, we have Zach Drum, another guy who was in track and came out. We have Saul Mares, we have Matt Christianson."
Jacobs said that having so many runners vying for a spot on the varsity squad sets them up nicely.
"We have a lot of guys who are going to be fighting for that varsity. That's really what helped us last year," said Jacobs. "We had an awful lot of competition for those last two spots. I have every reason to believe we are going to have that kind of competition again this year."
On the girls' side, a trio of girls that had state meet experience in track look to lead the way.
"Three of the girls that were on our 4x800 team that went to state came out. They are very talented girls, they are very hard working girls," Sample said. "They are gelling together as a team already. They've been running together all summer. I'm very excited for what they are going to do this year."
Sarah Buysse, Jenna Christianson and Madi Verschaetse made up the bulk of the 4x800 team in track and they are joined by returners Claire Boersma, Rose Andersen and Sarah Andersen as the top contenders for varsity, along with a handful of other girls.
"Shyla (Hansen) came from California, from Sacramento," Sample said. "She's actually my niece.
"My daughter (Nichole Sample) is a seventh-grader this year and she's been running with us this summer. Another seventh-grader to keep your eye on is Sydney Blomme. She also has some potential to factor up there along with Marah Hart."
The girls squad is going to see competition for varsity much like the boys team will.
"It's going to be super competitive," Sample said. "It's going to be super fun. We've been doing a lot of things to gel them together."
Both teams have experienced growth this season with 24 girls and 32 boys out according to the Minnesota State High School League website rosters, with 28 in the junior high ranks.
"If we get our numbers high enough we can get a junior high coach," Jacobs said. "Hopefully we'll get someone in there soon."
With the first meet of the season taking place on Monday at Morris, both squads are ready to see what's going to happen this year.
"The kids right away said we are probably one of the strongest teams coming back," Jacobs said. "You never really know, but on paper we are as strong as anyone coming back.
"We have a legitimate thought that we should be in the top four. We are almost a clone of last year. If we can get them to go after (the top) guys, that's going to help us in the long run."
Sample added, "I feel that once we get this first meet under our belts they are going to say, I know what this is all about and I trust you. The sooner they trust me and the sooner they buy into what we're doing, the better we're going to be.
"If they want to go to the state meet this year I'm on board. I have no doubt this team could make state this year. The key will be to keep everybody healthy. It's always a challenge in cross."