The Nevada boys are looking to keep a good thing going and the girls are ready to join in on the fun entering the 2018 cross country season.

Last year, the Nevada boys’ cross country team qualified for state as a team for the first time since 2009. The Cubs lose their top runner off that team in two-time individual state qualifier Malachi Hornbuckle, but return several quality runners from a unit that took 13th in Class 3A at state in 2017.

“We think the boys’ team can be just as good as last year, if not a little better,” Nevada head cross country coach Mike Christiansen said. “Lots of varsity experience coming back, and the kids really had great summers with their training.”

The Nevada boys will enter 2018 right where they left off — ranked No. 13 in 3A. Back for the Cubs are seniors Dalton Baker, Noah Nusbaum and Jacob Sanders, and juniors Carter Franzen and Dean Check.

Baker came up huge late in the season a year ago. He qualified individually for state, where he ran his fastest 5-kilometer time of the season at 17 minutes, 26 seconds to place 73rd in 3A.

Nusbaum suffered an early injury that plagued him most of 2017, but he still managed to step up big at state with a 54th-place time of 17:10 and he is ranked 25th individually in 3A entering 2018. Franzen’s best time a year ago was 17:42, Sanders peaked at 18:10 in 2017 and Check’s best effort last year was 19:17, despite suffering a hamstring injury during the season.

Sophomore Elliot Frideres, junior Caleb Powlovich and senior Hudson Vermillion will also be counted on at the varsity level. Frideres ran varsity last year, topping out with a time of 18:50.

“Here the first four seem real solid,” Christiansen said. “Then we have a second group of four that need to close the gap between the two groups.”

Christiansen said the key meet for the Cub boys will be the Gilbert Invitational to open the season. Gilbert, the defending 3A state champions, will provide a good measuring stick for the Nevada boys to run against all season.

“The boys are preseason ranked 13th,” Christiansen said. “They need to have a good showing at Gilbert to show the state coaches that they belong there.”

The Cub girls showed steady improvement and are now ready to take the next step — with a deep squad featuring 22 runners.

“The girls look to have one of the strongest teams we have had since the 2005 team that qualified for the state meet,” Christiansen said. “The girls’ team has better numbers and has a lot of varsity experience back from last year.”

Leading the way for the Nevada girls in 2018 is junior Eliana Hornbuckle. Hornbuckle ran a 5-kilometer time of 22:08 at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet last year in Jewell, just missing all-HOIC honors after placing 15th.

“I’m really excited to see how Eliana Hornbuckle races this year,” Christiansen said. “She had a great summer of training.”

Also back for the Cub girls are seniors Ryanne Barker and Mady Farmer, and sophomores Eleanor Elliott-Rude, Grace Cahill, Grace Heiden and Hannah Fritz. In 2017, Farmer ran a 23:23, Barker a 24:17, Elliott-Rude a 23:56, Cahill a 23:08, Heiden a 24:18 and Fritz a 24:27.

Sophomore Gabby Sampson and freshman Elie Tuhn will also compete for varsity spots.

“With the girls, our strength is going to be our pack,” Christiansen said. “In practice, we have a set of four leading the way and then a set of five right behind them.”

Christiansen said the Cub girls will have two big meets in preparation for the conference and qualifying meets.

“Roland-Story and South Hardin should be big meets for them,” Christiansen said. “We think the girls can win both of them. Those two can springboard the girls’ team going into conference and (the qualifying meet).”

If the Nevada girls are healthy and hitting peak form late in the season, Christiansen said they are capable of accomplishing big goals.

“The girls want to challenge North Polk for the conference title and make it to the state meet,” Christiansen said. “We have not taken a girls’ team to state since 2005, and this year the girls have a real shot at it.”

Both teams begin the season today at the Gilbert Invitational on the ISU cross country course in Ames. The meet is set to begin at 4:45 p.m.