Despite a high number of returners, the Cimarron High School cross country team is in for anything but an easy charge toward state this year after finishing sixth at state last year on the girls side.

"We return 17 of the 19 runners currently out for cross country,” Cimarron head cross country coach Paula Hunter said. “We have a lot of potential but we're in a tough regional where we compete against what I'm gonna call the 'surrounding Wichita schools.' We compete against that tough Wichita competition, so we have our work cutout for us, but we have the potential to go on."

The girls team may have had more success last year for Cimarron, qualifying for state as a team, but on the boys side one runner qualified individually and competed at state as well: Then-freshman Damion Santisteven, who finished 35th overall.

Multiple runners went to running camps over the summer, Hunter said, and there are a couple of freshmen who did well during junior high cross country last year also, so the team has high hopes.

The team’s success, Hunter said, comes from “pack running,” a strategy in which runners on a team finish generally with in a couple of places of each other, sometimes earning higher points than a team who has one runner win, but the others all finish further back in the field.

With the youth on this team, Hunter said that’ll make it especially important the kids learn to work together.

They base (the standings at a meet) on how the kids finish in a group, and so that was our strength, due to what I'm going to call the 'pack running,’” Hunter said.

Then-freshman Courtney Clinesmith and then-junior Morgan Clinesmith both finished in the top 30 runners at state last year, with Courtney having finished seventh, but one of them is dealing with an injury right now.

The returning runners on the girls team also ran at state last year, including Cameren Bartlett, Elizabeth Goetz and Evelin Amezcua.

As the season gets ready to start, Hunter said the coaching staff is working on two things. The first is finishing strong.

"Our weakness last year is we ran really well except for about the last about 200 meters and we were beat for the last 200 meters in several of our first three meets,” Hunter said. “As a coach that was extremely frustrating. So I've been really encouraging them to finish strong."

The other challenge is one cited by other cross country coaches in interviews ahead of their seasons: The lack of hills in southwestern Kansas. The State cross country meets for classification 6A, 5A and 3A (Cimarron’s classification) all take place at Lawrence-Rim Rock Farm, in Lawrence.

It’s a course the coaching staff is trying to prepare them for.

"We're trying to find ways to incorporate some of that into practice so that they have the right experiences and stuff,” Hunter said. “They ran at Rim Rock last year, and they will this year, which is a hilly, mulch type course. That's just something we don't have around here, plus we don't have the humidity."