With six of its top runners returning, Benton High School's cross country team is looking to improve on its 22nd place finish at state a year ago.
The Rangers have been ranked as high as fourth and as low as 10th in two preseason polls. The Rangers are seeking a third straight conference title.
"There's people out there that know how good we can be but we're only as good as where our training is and what we did this summer. With everybody back, they have a lot of expectations for us but for the team to be ranked fourth in the preseason should be a lot of motivation that there's bigger and better things on the horizon," said coach third-year coach Brent McLain.
"Last year, our goal was to make it. This year we want to make it and have a respectable time. If we get in the top 15 it's going to be an honor. If you want to dream and have lofty goals, to be top 10 would be phenomenal."
Three seniors lead the squad, including Mason Wills, Avery Potter and Ethan Kreiger. Returning juniors include Joey Sample and Brady Kischer and sophomore Parker Sieveking also has varsity experience.
"Our two freshmen coming in, Jay Simmons and Chase Owens, had a great eighth-grade and have a chance of helping us on the varsity level," McLain said.
Wills was a state qualifier as an individual as a sophomore but missed going with the rest of the team last year due to illness.
"When you throw him in the mix that's what's going to make us special as a group. We've got all 10 of our guys that could compete for those top seven spots. Somebody that's a sixth runner for us that may not score could easily be a number three or four for another team. We're very deep in depth and when you have to go out and push yourself everyday it just makes you better automatically," McLain said.
Two-time all-stater Mia McLain leads a group of four females who will compete in girls meets. McLain finished 10th as a freshman and ninth as a sophomore at state. She will be joined by sophomores Addisyn Miller and Katy Johnston and freshman Haley Wallace. Maci Sanchez, who was on the Rangerettes track team, will run on a part time basis, McLain said.
"We are going to have a full team. We think we can compete at the conference level with our girls."
McLain said he is looking forward to a good season.
"It's going to be a fun year. Our numbers are up and these are all coachable kids. They know the dedication it takes to be a distance runner. It's going to be an exciting year to see this group gel."