For a fourth straight year, the Morris girls cross country team will be trying to make history. In each of the past three seasons, the lady harriers have advanced as a team out of regional action — all firsts in Redskins running history.
“The graduating seniors did so much for our girls program. They made history," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. "They created expectations. It is now this group’s job to meet those expectations and keep adding to the history."
That being said, the girls squad graduated five of the seven runners from the team that advanced out of the Sandwich Regional a year ago, including the top three runners.
The girls currently have 15 members on the team, but only four seniors and two juniors. Returning to the team from last year with their average finish are Katie Thayer (No. 4), Anna Pfaff (No. 6), Maddy Pfaff (No. 7), Katie Kreig (No. 10), Taylor Wolfer (No. 12) and Hannah Hesslau (No. 15).
“Of our returning girls, Maddy is recovering from a broken bone accident, and Katie Kreig has had nagging blisters and a calf injury. Going into our first meet, we will be competing with four runners that have cross country race experience. That’s a bit scary, in all honesty," Blumberg said.
Maddy Pfaff was injured in a sledding accident this past winter. She thinks the team is still in position where it can get out of the regional again.
"We're hoping to do good," she said. "My sister (Anna) has been working hard, along with Katie Kreig and Katelyn Mantey, plus there are a bunch of freshmen that are putting the time in every day and all summer long."
Morris opens the season on Wednesday in its own Early Bird Invitational.
“Anna had an outstanding summer and will be our number one runner going into the Early Bird Invite. She is a competitor, is very determined, and has the strength to be a consistent number one," Blumberg said.
"Katie Thayer has held back a bit in practice.We need her to step up and be a solid number two. If Katie Kreig can shake her injuries, she will be in the mix. Maddy’s injury was severe. I know she wants to come back and run, but we have to keep her long-term health in mind as well. We will have to be patient with her therapy and recovery. Hannah and Taylor will need to continue to lead by example and be mentors to our younger runners.”
New runners on the team this year include Marcy Boers, Natalie Erickson, Annie Erickson, Katie Erickson, Hannah Knapp, Katelyn Mantey, Valerie Pfaff, Alex Stanger, and Erin Ferguson.
“Katelyn and Val are the first two names that pop out from that list. Katelyn had a great summer and can run with Katie Thayer. Val is a tough-nosed, hard-working athlete. Even though she lacks experience, I think her determination and attitude will put her in our top five," Blumberg said.
"The truth is we need some of our rookies to step up. I firmly believe that Natalie and Annie can be varsity runners. Katie, Alex, Hannah, and Erin can compete for top ten spots. But they need experience. And I am hoping that participating in a meet or two will get the competitive juices going a bit. It hasn’t clicked yet. But I am confident in their abilities to help out our program.”
Which could mean advancement for individuals, or the team once again.
"I don't think our times are going to be as good as last year, but I still think we have a chance to do good," Maddy Pfaff said. "Some individuals have a chance to get out of the regional but we could still get the team out. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of practice, but we can do it."