SIKESTON - The Sikeston cross country team will be under new leadership this fall.
Longtime head coach Gary Williams, who started the program in 1979 and coached it until 1992, has taken over the reins from the departed Beth Brunkhorst.
Williams helped lead the Bulldog cross country team twice to the state finals over the years.
The program was halted for a number of years after Williams got out. Brunkhorst started it back up four years ago and now Williams is hoping to help it prosper. And right off the bat, numbers are up this year, which has Williams thinking his squad might be able to qualify for team points in meets.
In high school cross country, five runners are required for both the boys and girls to qualify for team points.
"I really think the main goal this season is to have a competitive team," said Williams. "There hasn't been a team in Sikeston in 10 years. So our first goal is to get two teams together competing. And it looks like we're going to do that with the numbers we have out this year."
The top returner is senior Dale Ham, who qualified for state last year in cross country and the 3200 meters in track.
"Dale Ham certainly should have an outstanding year," said Williams. He's prepared himself well and he really can't wait until the races start."
Senior Jonathan Wiley also returns along with junior Quinton Lamb. Freshman Clay Lincoln, who will try to pull double duty and play football this fall, could also help.
Lincoln set two junior high track records as an eighth grader in the 800 and 1600 meter runs.
Williams says there are two other freshmen and three eighth graders that he expects could help out the team this year.
Although official team goals haven't been set, Williams is mostly hoping to have a team that can qualify in meets.
"Basically the first couple of meets it would be nice to have a team score," said Williams. "Sikeston hasn't had one of those in a really long time."
But he does expect big things out of Ham.
"For Dale, I can set his individual goals because I know how well he's run in the past and I've seen his times," said Williams. "For him, it's probably to try to be all-state in cross country. I think he has a legitimate shot to do that. The other athletes on the team I really haven't seen compete that much. So we'll run the first meet or two and then form goals as we go according to where their abilities are."
On the girls side, seniors Jennifer Medlin, Tiffany Warren and Claudia Beeson return. Also looking to compete are sophomore Ashton Doran and freshmen Ellie Hensley, Katherine Eilders and Jessica Kruger. Williams says its the first time in 10 years Sikeston has had a full girls team.
"I really don't know as much about the girls," said Williams. "This is the first time I've coached in a while. But I do have six girls that run consistently together in practice, so that's usually a good sign."
Regardless of what type of team Sikeston puts out this year, Williams is just happy to be working with young athletes again after a 10-year layoff.
"I'm doing it for several reasons," he said. "One, I wanted to start running again and getting in shape. I also have been wanting to work with kids again after school. And Sikeston has always been the smallest team in the biggest division. Now we'll be one of the bigger teams in a smaller division so that might make us a little more competitive." Sikeston's first meet will be Sept. 7 in the Jackson Invitational.
The Kelly Hawks' cross country team has been on a role the last few years. For the second year in a row, Kelly took fourth in the state.
Many of the top performers graduated from that team but head coach John Merrick is still optimistic in 2002.
"We're fairly young this year," said Merrick. "We graduated four outstanding runners last year that helped us get fourth in the state."
The Hawks return two lettermen in sophomore Michael Glastetter and junior Trey Simmons.
Merrick also has eight freshmen to work with. Brandon Ayers, Steve Cruz, Jordan Felter, Nolan Lewer, Blake Lee, Derek Brucker, John Cooper and Hunter Johnson all hope to find a spot on the varsity.
Others that will be vying for a position are Todd Brucker, Ryan Koch and Wade Buckner.
"We've got a lot of freshmen coming up," said Merrick. "Hopefully we're going to have a good competitive team. That's what we're shooting for. The kids are working real hard towards trying to win the district again and possibly going to state again."
On the girls side, the Hawks return seniors Katrina Martin, Kristina New, Natalie Scherer and Natalie Walter. Freshmen Leigh Buckheit, Patricia Quillman and Cara Klipfel will also try to find a spot on the varsity.
Kelly will open its season on Sept. 7 at the Jackson Invitational.