The Colo-NESCO cross country teams both face big challenges heading into the 2018 season as each squad is battling inexperience and depth issues.

On the girls’ side, Colo-NESCO lost one runner for the season due to a hip injury in senior Claire Skinner. Juniors Emily Brinkman and Emma Stalzer are also battling injuries heading into the season.

“The outlook for the season is a little uncertain,” Colo-NESCO head cross country coach Tony Stalzer said. “We have some injuries that we are nursing and trying to get better, so that will be a big part of the season. We have some runners that have had some success in the past, so we will be relying on them in the early season.”

As Brinkman and Stalzer heal up, sophomore Jenna Banks and freshmen Mea Skinner and Emma Cerka will be counted on to step up at meets.

Senior Faith Vincent provides a much-needed steadying presence for the Royal girls.

The veteran runner was part of two state-qualifying teams as a freshman and sophomore, and last year her best 5-kilometer time was 23 minutes, 53 seconds. In 2017, Vincent placed 11th at the Madrid Invitational, 14th at West Marshall and 24th at the Iowa Star Conference meet.

Skinner will be a vocal leader on the team.

“We will rely on Faith Vincent to be our leader on the course, as well as off the course,” Tony Stalzer said. “Senior Claire Skinner recently had hip surgery and will not be able to run, but when she is able to join us, she will be a leader in cheering on her teammates.”

Coach Stalzer said the Royal girls must improve on their conditioning and that the girls have been doing more volume running to help them perform better early in the season. As the season progresses, it will just be taking one meet at a time.

“My ultimate goal is to see the girls improve as runners,” Tony Stalzer said. “I would like to see each girl improve at each meet, and keep learning how to compete and run their best race each meet.”

The Colo-NESCO boys are looking to improve from a year ago. The Royal boys will still be young, but they are aiming to top last year when they placed eighth at the ISC meet and 10th at two other meets.

“I think the outlook for our boys’ team is good,” Tony Stalzer said. “This will be a year of growth. We are a young team, but the boys have been working really hard during the summer and in the early season.”

The top runners for the Royal boys in 2018 will be senior Scott Miller, junior Luke Hill, sophomores Ryan Wonders, Chevy Dunlap and Jacob Reischauer and freshmen Alex Rouse and Ben Rouse.

Miller’s best 5-kilometer time in 2017 was 26:13.

“We will look toward our one senior to be our leader,” Tony Stalzer said. “Scott has been running cross country since seventh grade and he is looking forward to having his best season yet.”

Hill’s best time last year was 21:07, Wonders peaked at 20:21, Dunlap topped out at 21:28 and Reischauer ran a 22:12.

As with the girls, Tony Stalzer is looking for steady progress from the boys during the season.

“I want to see improvement out of the boys this year,” Tony Stalzer said. “I am very confident that we will get better throughout the season.”

The cross country season begins for the Royals today at the Spartan Early Bird Invitational. The meet will be run at the Center Grove Orchard near Maxwell.