Andrew Beach set an ambitious goal for his final season with the Minot High School cross country team. The senior wants to break the 16-minute mark at the 3.1-mile length.
If Beach, the Magicians' top runner, can run near that goal by late October, he will likely be in the top group at the state meet in Valley City.
"I've always had a goal of going under 16, but it's so hard to know what will happen at the end of the season," Beach said. "As long as I improve steadily. I'm not expecting any ridiculous times or anything like that."
Minot High School senior Andrew Beach heads north on Sixth Street Southwest during practice Friday.
The boys and girls teams open the season with the Velva Invitational at Star City Golf Course at 2 p.m. Friday.
Beach recorded his personal best of 16:45 last year, but a sizeable drop in time wouldn't surprise him. His top time as a sophomore was 17:30.
Top runners can expect a better shot at a state title following the graduation of three-time reigning champion Jake Leingang of Bismarck High - the eight-time defending team champs. Leingang won the 2012 state meet in 15:09 and the next closest finisher - Shanley's Sebastian Startz - was clocked at 16:03. Startz and the remaining runners in last year's top five return as seniors. Beach finished 42nd in 17:15 for Minot's top place.
Those runners will be looking to run under 16 minutes too, but MHS coach Aaron Klingbeil likes Beach's chance at an all-state finish.
"He's really come into himself in the last year," Klingbeil said, "so he was getting stronger last year, but I think he's leaps and bounds better this year than last year.
"I'd like to see him try to go top five as an individual, which it's a pretty big goal with the quality in the state right now, but I think it's doable."
Joining Beach at the top of the MHS lineup are seniors Chris Stock, Billy Sartwell and Dylan Ellis and twins Jordan and Sean Krill. The returning experience should mean an improvement on the team's 10th-place finish a year ago.
"I know that for us we came in with more overall miles than I think we've ever had," Klingbeil said.
Klingbeil still sees BHS as the favorite, but the graduation of Leingang and two other top-10 Demons should make races less predictable.
"I don't think one guy's gonna change how open the race is, but I do think Bismarck graduated more than just (Leingang)," Klingbeil said, "and so I think it brings them down a little bit, which will probably allow the other schools to race with them and it'll be a little more exciting."
The MHS teams will compete on the Souris Valley Golf Course for the first time since the flood. MHS will test the course with a meet Aug. 29 and host the West Region championship in October. The course is expected to be used for the 2014 state meet.
"It's a beautiful course, for one," Klingbeil said. "Secondly, it has one very challenging hill on it - that as a course designer having that is beautiful - but the rest of the course is so well-maintained. It's flat, it's fair and the finish on that course really is a good spectator's finish because you get a good half-mile shot where you can kind of see them come around and they come right on in."
Leading the girls team is junior Stephanie Huether, whose sister Samantha was the top Majette before graduating in May.
"(Stephanie's) a lot like her sister," MHS coach Shannon Bushnell said. "She's a strong runner. She has good strength, strong finish. They run through the summer. That's a big deal. So they come to cross country prepared and in shape."
The older Huether finished 18th at last year's state meet to lead MHS and was followed by Emily Nelson (32nd). The seventh-grader completed the 2.5-mile race in 16:00.
"It makes me want to do a lot better," Nelson said. "So I want to get in the top 30 and then get my time down to like 15:45 or something like that."
Nelson will be pushed in practice by senior captain Emma Sandy, junior Taryn Love and sophomore Meg Super. Love missed the previous season with a hip injury, but the gritty soccer player adds upperclassman leadership.
"I think we could be really good this year," Sandy said. "I think we could pack run and get ourselves high up at state."
Bushnell sees reigning champion Bismarck High as a favorite along with last year's runner-up Century and East Region power Fargo Davies. The Majettes finished eighth in 2012.
Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.