Infusion of talent to redefine Merrill CC squads
Coaches- Greg Eichelkraut (20th year), Craig Hoffman (7th), Heath Seefeld (6th), Shirley Derleth (1st), John Bezier (14th PRMS).
Last season’s accomplishments- Girls-5th of 7 GNC; Boys-6th of 7 GNC.
Major losses- Girls-Hayley Walbeck (HM GNC), Hilary Steltenpohl, Shatara Jahnke, Brooke Hartwig, Rachel Bezier; Boys-Matt Juedes (HM AC), Nathan Bloechl.
Key returnees- Girls-Sidney Harris, Kelci Peterson, Kendra Andreska; Boys-Lukas Gessler, Mitch Czech, Andrew Seaman.
Promising newcomers- Girls-Maria DeBroux, Sarah Ponzer, Ashley Berton; Boys-Mitchel Sherfinski, Greg Boyce, Marcus Reinhardt, and frosh Trevor Myers and other promising freshmen.
Eichelkraut quotable- “We’re back in the Valley with a completely made-over (boys) team. Our best races will come at the end of the year because we are so young or inexperienced. We have the kind of team make-up to do pack running but it will take time for the boys to develop the feel of what that is.
“We can be a dark horse team that if we gel and can get development from at least our #6 or 7 runners to push the top of the pack, we could make some moves by the end of the season. Due to our inexperience and youth, we stand to improve more than established runners, but we do have some catching up to do.
“Sixth out of 7 is within our reach as long as we take care of business. Fourth of 7 means we took advantage of race situations while capping off a good season.
“The valley is deep with girls talent. East has exceptional individuals, West and Everest have become strong and deep while SPASH and Marshfield are traditionally strong programs. For now, 6th out of 7 would be a realistic finish, but no one has run yet and the season will be contested as an open question.
“Many of our athletes have a high degree of motivation and I feel they are quite cohesive. We will be spending considerable time using veterans to teach rookies, upperclassmen to teach younger athletes. So far we are seeing this happen in the weight room and during interval work. The diversity of backgrounds (wrestlers, BB players, track runners) will give us the opportunity to draw upon a variety of strengths.
“Our strengths are enthusiasm, focus, and desire to compete-both within the team and with other teams. We are positive and willing to work hard. This team is concerned about the kind of detail necessary to achieve. Instead of a few athletes trying to help guide the team into competition, I’m seeing the team as a whole striving towards excellence for competition. It’s definitely a different atmosphere.
“We have 16 boys; 7 freshmen along with 4 new upperclassmen have given us a spectrum of ages. Our girls numbers are very low. We’ve had several athletes indicate financial problems preventing them from joining. We’ve also had one move away. Our goals are to recruit new members during the season, and focus on one day at a time.
“There’s no doubt that these girls want to compete in cross country and fulfill their potential as distance runners. They prepared well over the summer with base mileage, cross training and some track work. Their confidence from preparation is high. They have an even temperament, they don’t let things get to them but realize they’ve got to work with what they have towards a best possible outcome.