For the first time since 1999 the Brainerd Warrior boys' cross country team won't have either Chris Woodard or Justin Grunewald as their No. 1 runner.
Woodard was the Warriors' top runner last season, finishing 24th in the Class 2A state meet. The year before, Grunewald, now at the University of Minnesota, placed fifth in the state and helped the Warriors to 10th place in 2A.
Woodard has graduated and moved on to North Dakota State, leaving junior Justin Tyner as his heir apparent. Tyner, who placed 46th at state last year, is the top returning finisher in Section 8, Class 2A (sixth).
Challenging Tyner for the No. 1 spot is senior Blake Alguire.
"Those two are maybe not at the level (of Grunewald and Woodard) yet, but they're pretty strong runners," Warriors coach Dave Herath said. "They're pushing each other in practice, which is nice.
"Those two will be our 1-2 punch by the looks of things. The eight guys behind them are pushing them also."
Returning from the section team, in addition to Alguire and Tyner, are seniors Shawn Steinkraus and Mike Reponen and sophomore Mitch Lorenz.
"Last year was one of those years where I think we learned more from adversity than from success," Herath said. "Last year we learned that having talent goes a long way but you've got to push yourself to make the next step.
"We were third at the section by a few points. Some guys came back and put on a lot of miles this summer. They don't want a repeat of that."
Brainerd graduated four runners from its section team, but Herath believes quality remains.
"They're out to prove they're one of the top teams," he said. "It could be the summer mileage they've put in and the way they've been working the first few weeks that we will be a force by the end of the year.
"This is probably the deepest team we've had in a while, as far as the top 10-12 runners. That's what you like to see as a coach. They're always pushing each other at practice. At times we've had to back them off because they're such competitors, and say, 'Today is an easy day, just get your mileage in.'
"Barring injury and illness we should be real strong. We're looking for consistency. We may not be the top dog but you don't want to dip much below that."
Seniors: Blake Alguire, Shawn Steinkraus, Mike Reponen
Junior: Justin Tyner
Sophomore: Mitch Lorenz
Seniors: Titus Goodew, Jake Iten, Justin Anderson, Nathaniel Tyner
Juniors: Hans Stadem, Nathan Hall
Sophomores: Luke Delaney, Tyler Rose, Bruce Praska, Joe Ohlin, Steve Qualey, Zach Schneider
Freshmen: Thomas Ruttger, Brandon Milbeck, Peter Lindman
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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