The Nevada boys’ cross country team is gearing up for a run at state and the Cub girls want to show quality improvement in 2017.

The Nevada boys are coming off a season where they placed third at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet, finished in the top five at six meets and sent a runner to state. This season, the Cubs hope to up the ante.

Senior Malachi Hornbuckle was Nevada’s state qualifier last year and this year he is joined by another state qualifier in West Marshall transfer Edison Wieg.

Hornbuckle placed 29th in the Class 3A boys’ race at state last year with a 5-kilometer time of 17:02. His best time in 2017 was 16:51.

Wieg, a senior this fall, took 36th in the 2A boys’ race at state last year with a 17:30 showing.

Junior Dalton Baker gives Nevada a strong third runner. His best time in 2016 was 18:47.

That trio leads a deep group capable of contending for the HOIC title and qualifying for state.

“On paper we look very good,” Nevada head cross country coach Mike Christiansen said. “We have the solid front runners in Malachi Hornbuckle and Edison Wieg, and Dalton Baker, who has put in the miles and has been with the other two. After that we have a solid group that returns from a year ago with lots of varsity experience. We have 10 guys who will be battling for those seven varsity spots.”

Senior Connor Kline, juniors Noah Nusbaum and Jacob Sanders, and sophomore Carter Franzen are the leading contenders to fill in the other spots in the top seven. Last fall Kline peaked at 17:50, Nusbaum topped out at 18:21 and Sanders’ best time was 18:51.

Other runners in the varsity mix will be juniors Joven Nelson and Connor Hines, sophomore Dean Check and freshman Elliot Frideres.

“Our main strength is going to be our depth,” Christiansen said. “We will have 10 guys that can run varsity for us at any one time. While we will also have a solid two, maybe three in the top five at just about every meet we go to. The boys will also have a lot of varsity experience back, with six guys with a lot of varsity races under their belt.”

Christiansen said the season-opening Gilbert Invitational will be the big meet that sets the tone for the season. Two teams opening the season ranked in the top four of 3A — Gilbert and Dallas Center-Grimes — will be at the meet.

“If we can get off to a good start and let the confidence build from there, who knows what might happen,” Christiansen said.

On the girls’ side, Nevada must replace lead runner Kaylee Kruschwitz. But the other four runners that regularly scored — senior Megan Gilchrist, juniors Mady Farmer, Ryanne Barker and Caitlyn Sharp, are back.

“We have a solid group and I think can be real competitive in all the meets we go to,” Christiansen. “We have good experience with Kaylee Kruse, Madyson Farmer, Ryanne Barker, Megan Gilchrist, Eliana Hornbuckle and Caitlyn Sharp. Then we have four or five young and new runners that can help fill in the gaps.”

Last season Gilchrist’s best 5-kilometer time was 22:53. Farmer’s top time was 22:42, Barker’s best effort was 22:56 and Sharp peaked at 22:47.

Kruse — a senior — missed most of last season, but was a crucial part of the Cub varsity in 2015. Hornbuckle will be entering her sophomore year after being a reliable contributor as a freshman, peaking at 24:02.

Freshmen Eleanor Elliott-Rude, Grace Cahill, Hannah Fritz and Grace Heiden, and sophomore Madison Davis also could contend for varsity time.

“We won’t have a front runner, but we will be able to stack five to six girls in the fifth to 20th-place (range),” Christiansen said. “So our strength is going to be running together and helping each other. Another strength is going to be our experience. We have six girls back with lots of varsity experience.”

Christiansen said the key meets for the girls’ team will come toward the end of the season heading into the HOIC meet.

“We run well at Roland-Story and after that is South Hamilton,” Christiansen said. “We need to run well in both of them and carry the momentum into conference. By this time, the young runners will have experience and everyone should be in top shape.”

Both Cub teams open the season today at the Gilbert Invitational. The meet begins at 4:45 p.m. on the ISU cross country course in Ames.