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The Emporia High cross country team found plenty of positives in its first competition of the year over the weekend in Manhattan.

The Spartans are looking forward to their second race even more which will come Saturday at Jones Park in E-High’s sole home meet of the season.

“They have a lot of drive and buy-in,” EHS head coach Mike Robinson said. “I think there’s a good amount of potential on this team.”

That potential was visible during both races last week. In their opener, the E-High girls placed second, with a trio of runners finishing among the top 11.

“That was really surprising, but it was great surprise and a great accomplishment by us girls and we all ran really well,” senior Kelsey Boettcher said.

Perhaps the most surprising was the lead Spartan, freshman Elizabeth Willhite, who placed seventh overall. She was quickly followed by junior Taryn West and Boettcher. Only host Manhattan, which finished first among teams, had three runners finish more quickly than Emporia.

“I didn’t know what (Willhite) was capable of,” Boettcher said. “But I’m very proud of what she’s accomplished.”

As far as her own standard of competition, the sole senior from the girls’ side was mindful of simply attacking what was directly before her.

“I didn’t really have any goals to start out with,” she said. “I was just really hoping to get out and run a good, strong race and to see what I was capable of for the first race and go from there.”

The boys were fourth overall, but got a runner-up finish by junior Treyson True. Freshman Jonathan Laudie was 10th overall, the second Spartan to finish and the first freshman to cross the finish out of the 12 competing.

“Just the guts he has,” True said of what stood about his first-year teammate. “We were coming in with a mile left and I remember looking back and seeing him come out of the woods not far behind me and I was like ‘holy cow.’ He looked determined on his face and that’s what we like to see on these teams is just that determination that they’re going to do something great.”

Seniors Zac Proehl and Caleb Hollenbeck were the next two across the finish for the Spartans and will be expected to provide a strong role to the boys’ team.

“We expect them to be leaders on the team, encourage our younger ones, show them the ropes and just be good examples,” Robinson said of his seniors.

True has high expectations for his team, but has just as high, if not higher, for himself.

“One big (goal) is (to finish) under 16 minutes, that’s a big one still I’m looking forward to,” he said, after his time of 16:36 in race number one. “I came close last year, just wasn’t feeling good the last couple meets of the year and just didn’t fulfill that.”

He also wants to make sure he’s near the front of the pack, among the top-five, in each of his races this season, which he hopes will include state.

That aspiration, however, runs across both teams’ checklists.

“We want to place well at state,” Boettcher said. “We want to get there and try our best.”

For the runners, that’s the goal, while Robinson made sure the students knew early on it was more than that.

“Every year, we expect to put two full teams in the state meet,” he said. “That’s not one of our goals, that’s an expectation. A top-three finish in the league meet would be pretty great and (we want them to) keep coming to practice and putting in the work.”

That work is daily, though the next stage comes this weekend and close to home.

And the younger runners left a strong enough impression, the bar will continue to be raised as the year goes on.

“Elizabeth was seventh (in her race) and Jon Laudie came in and contributed,” Robinson said. “We knew they would at some point, we just weren’t expecting it quite so fast. Just the fact they’ll get in there and compete hard is pretty encouraging.

“That definitely raises the bar. They’ve put in a lot of work, we knew they’d pop one eventually. Now they have and it’ll be time to work toward the next level.”

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