KINGMAN - The Kingman High cross country team is, in a way, a mirror image of the track team: The boys are experienced, the girls not so much.
But while the two teams have the same characteristics, the outlook for this year's cross country team is still cloudy. Coach Anne Bathauer won't really know the direction the team will head until after the first meet at the Peaks Invitational Sept. 3 in Flagstaff.
"I always have high expectations before we start the season, but before we actually get into that meet setting, I don't know what we are capable of," Bathauer said. "After that first meet, that's where we can start setting goals."
According to Bathauer, the Peaks Invitational is one of the biggest meets in the state and rivals the state meet, with as many as 25 teams participating in each race. It's also an early season test with the 7,000-foot elevation, one that can have even seasoned runners gasping for air early in the race.
"It's a big cross country meet for Arizona," said Bathauer, who enters her 18th season as KHS cross country coach. "That's our kickoff day, it's really comparable to the state meet, only no one is in shape yet. If you have a good showing at that meet, typically you are one of the top people at state if you can hold through without injuries."
One runner who will be looked to have a good showing is David Haun.
Haun, along with Patrick Webb, Shaun Wooten and senior Louis DeLavara, a transfer student from California, will lead the boys team.
"Shaun and David ran all summer long and they just came into the season in great shape," Bathauer said. "Right now I have four really strong runners."
Others who are expected to contribute include Preston Hammond, Ethan Swenson, Darian Kamin, Leonardo Delgado and Jarrod Chastain.
"It's going to be anybody's game who makes that top seven," Bathauer said. "It's going to be who gets in shape first."
Besides DeLavara, Tanner Cardiff will also contribute as a newcomer.
"He will be an outstanding athlete for us," said Bathauer of Cardiff. "He was one of our top middle school athletes, and I think he will be a big contributor."
While Cardiff looks to make a name for himself on the boys team, older sister Paige Cardiff will anchor a young girls team that includes one senior, one junior, three sophomores and the rest freshmen.
"On the girls side, anything can happen," Bathauer said. "Right now we are trying to get back into the shape we need to be at to compete."
According to Bathauer, Cardiff came into the season looking good after attending a running camp during the summer and has been working on her endurance by running in the heat, which proved to be her Achilles' heel at the state meet last year.
"At the regional meet last year she had a great performance, but it was very warm, and it wore her down so much that she couldn't perform at the state meet the next week," Bathauer said.
Joining Paige will be senior letter winner Heather Paulsteiner, Olivia Anderson, Alexis Bathauer, Haley Moore and Rachael Fondren.
Sophomore Amanda Williams and freshman Amber Simpson will be a couple of Bathauer's top newcomers.
Williams was a pleasant surprise for Bathauer in the spring for track and will run cross country for the first time this year.
"They are all vying for positions on the team," Bathauer said. "As far as where we are at, I'm excited with the kids' efforts."
As for the numbers, they are about average, Bathauer said, evenly split between the boys and girls. She is still taking freshmen who are interested in running cross country.
"We have a tradition of excellence in cross country," Bathauer said. "We've done well. Kids know what to expect when they come out to practice. These are disciplined kids - they are up at six o'clock in the morning and running in the heat in the afternoon. It's not an easy sport to go out and run three miles and run every day on the track. It's hard."
Last year, KHS finished in the top five at both regionals. At state, the boys team placed 17th while the girls were 18th.
This year, the Bulldogs will move from Division II into Division I. Bathauer says it will be a tougher division.
"You have more kids to choose from at that level," Bathauer said. "However, in cross country if you can put together five fast athletes, anybody has a chance. Anyone has a chance and that's the thing with cross country."