The West Central Area boys and girls cross country teams both qualified for the state meet in 2017, but the Knights will be without a few kids from those teams, either lost to graduation, changing sports, and one out for the year with an injury. Head Coach John Van Kempen enters his twelfth year leading the team and will be assisted by Rick Toms (12 years), Heidi Bright (3 years) and Austin Hanson (rookie year).
"We will return the nucleus of both the girls' and boys' teams and look forward to getting in some early season meets to see where we are at in terms of conditioning and number of bodies that can compete at a varsity level," commented Van Kempen. "With only about twenty-five kids total, we are hoping to add a few bodies to strengthen our lineup to help us be competitive."
Captains Ella Van Kempen (SR) and Teagan Nelson (JR) lead the girls squad and are joined by returning letter winners Brynn Fernholz (SO), Lexi Bright (FR), Kennedy Porter (FR), Carly Steiner (SO), Tia Ahner (JR) and Quinn Huntley (8th).
Juniors Jacob Bright and Jack Van Kempen will lead the boys with other returning letter winners including seniors Hunter Mickelson and Tim Ruud, sophomore Kyle Schill and freshmen Kade Runge, Alex Salwasser, Reubens Swanson, Shad Swanson and Tyler Biss.
"Both teams were section runners-up last year and both teams lost by four points so we definitely will have our work cut out for us," said Coach Van Kempen. "Both teams will also have their top four racers back with Lexi, Teagan, Brynn and Ella for the girls and Jacob, Jack, Kyle and Kade for the boys. We will need those kids leading us both in terms of leadershp and racing, but will also need someone to step up and fill the 5 through 7 spots and push the top four. We are hoping some more kids come out for the team and help strengthen our lineup. There will be several incoming seventh-graders on the team and some older newcomers to the sport so they may need to fill in as our season progresses."
Van Kempen points to Eden Valley/Watkins, Staples-Motley, Albany and Sauk Centre as the top girls teams in Section 6A, while Staples-Motley and Breckenridge/Wahpeton are his picks in the boys 6A competition.
As for the Heart O' Lakes Conference, Van Kempen says, "Perham, both boys and girls. They have dominated the HOL for so many years on both sides and it will take a tremendous effort for any team to upset their dynasty."