A change to high school cross-country in Minnesota could mean more opportunities for Hutchinson harriers to run at state, but it will still be tough as the Tigers boys and girls teams look to continue improving in the 2021 season.

“The addition of a class to cross-country will have a major impact on our team,” Hutchinson head coach Michael Reponen said. “Four starters, our section goes from 17 teams to 12 teams. While our section will still be competitive, without the large schools there are more opportunities for some of the smaller schools to send runners to state.”

The Tigers have a lot of work ahead of them before they can start thinking about state, however. The good news is that both squads return with good numbers and almost all of their varsity runners from the previous season.

Back on the boys team are varsity captains Mason Getz, Cameron Wagner and Tyson Farley, along with teammate Riley Yerks, who all saw plenty of action in last year’s races. The girls team is led by returning state-entrant Isabelle Schmitz, plus five other varsity runners: Morgan Dean, Maddy Wester, Maddy Steintl, Ava Bjorngjeld and Corina Powell. Dean and Schmitz are the team’s captains.

Helping to round out the teams are a handful of up-and-comers who could crack the varsity squad of seven. They include boys Nathan Johnson, Frank Augustine, Adam Rickertson, Keegan Dennis and Eric Oberg; and girls Kiera Ziemer and Breanna Stansbury.

“The boys and girls teams have similar strengths,” Reponen said. “They are led by a very solid No. 1 runner with a solid pack of runners trailing a bit back.”

Leading Hutchinson’s boys runners is Getz, who earned top-10 finishes in last year’s races and 20th in the section. With the new sections this year, Reponen looks to him to lead the team and finish in the top 10 this year at sections. After him, the rest of the runners add depth.

“Tyson and Cameron put in a lot of miles over the summer and look to lead a close pack of four runners including Riley and Nathan, as well. Our goal this season will be for our varsity pack to push each other to close the gap on other teams.”

Schmitz is the girls’ top runner and has finished toward the front of most races for the past three seasons.. She qualified for state in 2018 and won the section in 2019. At state she finished as high as 17th place. There was no state cross-country meet last year, but in track last spring she earned state medals in the 3200 and 1600 races, and is ready for another breakout season.

“She is looking to be one of the top runners in the state and will start the team in good position,” Reponen said. “Our 2-7 runners on the girls team will all finish fairly close to one another. They will be able to pace off of one another and push each other.”

Reponen admits that for the past couple seasons, Hutchinson has been “one of the lower-tier teams in the conference and section,” but the Tigers’ goal is to move into the middle this year. Having Orono, Waconia and New Prague leave the conference may help with that, as will the changes to Hutchinson’s section.

“If we can stay healthy and injury free, I think we will achieve our goals,” Reponen said. “They are a very hard-working and motivated group of runners. I think as the season goes on, things will begin to click into place and we will see a lot of improvement.”