September 15, 2010 | 08:36 AM
The Badger boys and girls cross country teams are on the verge of greatness.
Both squads finished in the top three in the Southern Lakes Conference, and both return many key athletes from last season.
Boys coach Mike Butscher lost talented seniors Ellis Lagerhausen and Ryan Murray, but two all-conference runners and plenty of letterwinners are back from a team that placed second in the SLC a year ago. Butscher said his squad could be in title contention for the long haul.
"We are set up nicely for years to come with good freshman and sophomore classes," he said. "We are setting our goals high this year."
Badger will benefit from all-conference returning runners C.J. Morris, a senior, and junior Dan Sepe. Also eight returning letterwinners are back including seniors Corey Nevin, Eric Nielsen and Arturo Alfaro; sophomores Thomas Pecha, Mitchell Jensen, Mike Cordes, Mason Fellmeth and Ezra Ward-Packard.
Butscher also is excited about his newcomers, who are sophomores Ruben Alvarez and Jack Golitz and freshmen Gavin Denecke, Derrick Buntrock and Dillon Collins.
And the 12th-year coach already is pleased with early season results. In the squad's first event of the year, the Franklin Quad, Badger won with 25 points to Franklin's 53. Sepe was first overall with a 18:10, cutting off 21 seconds from his previous best. Morris was second with an 18:16 in the 3.1-mile race. Pecha finished 14th overall with a time of 18:31.
Based on early returns, Butscher believes this squad is ready for big things.
"It should be us and Waterford," he said. "We feel we have a good shot at the SLC crown, and we're in the mix for state."
Girls boast record numbers
Girls coach Stephani Gustafson knows her squad can compete with the big dogs in the area.
On Sept. 4 at the Racine Horlick Invite, the local girls took fifth out of 24 teams, most of which were bigger than Badger.
"I'm pretty excited about that," Gustafson said. "I'm really happy to have my top eight girls running as strong as they are right now. Also, the junior varsity is looking strong. There is a lot of talent there, so our varsity lineup could change throughout the year."
Badger only lost Courtney Frederick, an all-SLC performer last year. But, like the boys, solid runners are back including juniors Sarah Morgan, Aaryn Edge and Maddie Mandich; along with sophomores Tristan Sproul, Karina Reeves and Stephanie Espinosa.
Gustafson said there are a total of 33 girls, the biggest squad she's had in her three years. There are 20 new girls, including eight freshmen. So far, she likes the team chemistry.
"Fran Homen along with Edge and Morgan are our captains," Gustafson said. "They are doing an excellent job with a lot of team-building activities. Everyone is having a blast. The captains do a good job of getting the girls together."
As for the SLC, Gustafson knows her team will be very strong as they have already beat two bitter rivals, Waterford and Wilmot, at invites this year.
"We are a young team, and we will have everyone back next year," she said. "But we're already favorites to win the SLC. The way we're running right now, we should do pretty good in conference."