De Soto cross country continues to build chemistry as season quickly approaches
In Katie Wilber's first year as De Soto's head cross country coach, one of her primary goals was to build the chemistry of the young Wildcats team.
Wilber enjoyed watching the Wildcats drop time throughout last season while continuing to become closer on and off the course. While the Wildcats are eager to kick off their season, they already have a much stronger bond than at this time last year.
Along with logging a multitude of miles this summer, the Wildcats took their first ever team trip to Onekama, Mich.
"We did have a couple of twisted ankles, but overall it was a real good eye-opening experience for the kiddos. The had different terrains to run on and whatnot that they had never seen with being on very flat land here in Kansas," Wilber said. "It was a good team-building time for the kids to just spend some quality time together. We have a very good group of kiddos."
Between the runners on De Soto's boys and girls regional teams last year, the Wildcats only had one senior in Taylor Ramseyer. The Wildcats will have a balance of veterans and underclassmen on both teams this fall.
On the girls side, senior Gabby Collins returns as the Wildcats' lone state qualifier. Wilber is also excited to see the profession of juniors Alyssa Perry and Rylie McDaniel and sophomores Lamyah Ricks, Lane Heilman, Erin Pickert and Justine Wheeler.
"I've seen a lot of people who are now sophomores and juniors really stepping up to the plate and taking leaderships roles — even if they've only done it for a year," Wilber said. "They take those freshmen under their wing just as if they were seniors and kind of leading the team. It's really fun to see a young squad because it's a chance for them to work together for a couple of years, not just one year."
The De Soto boys team also has an individual state qualifier returning in junior Sam Hubert. Seniors Andre VanMeerhaeghe and Kason Jackson, juniors Graham Hudelson and Aydan VanMeerhaeghe and sophomore Chase Culver are also expected to contribute after competing on last year's regional team. Wilber has also been encouraged by how the incoming freshmen have blended right in during summer conditioning.
"We've had a good amount of to-be freshmen coming up from middle school that we're really excited about. Some of the boys are keeping up with our varsity guys," Wilber said. "Everyone has been really good about showing up. They go to weights four times a week, so they've been really putting in the time."
With some talented freshmen challenging the returners for some varsity spots, Wilber has been impressed with how all of the runners have set that aside and pushed each other to become the best that they can be.
"Just complete encouragement rather than, 'I want to beat you.' It's very much, 'Hey, keep going," Wilber said. "You can do this,' and just leading by example and walking them through why it is that we're always doing some of these things. Just even telling them what little traditions that we have that are just goofy team traditions like running certain places or what we call them (the routes) and things like that that have just included them as if they've been friends for a long time."