GOOSE LAKE -- He doesn’t have a large squad, or a superstar runner, but coach Pat Healy enters the 2013 girls cross country season feeling pretty good about what his Northeast team can accomplish.
“It should be a good season,” he said.
The Rebels are coming off a second-place finish at last year’s Class 2A state meet and back-to-back championships in the Big East Conference. They must replace 2010 state champion Emily Franks, who graduated in the spring, but Healy has a strong group of returning runners.
Northeast enters the season ranked second in Class 2A by the coaches association. But, the Rebels’ new conference, the River Valley Conference, also includes two other top-five teams: No. 3 Monticello and No. 5 Cascade.
“It’s realistic if we can get our top five healthy,” Healy said of Northeast’s ranking. “Right now we’re running with a couple sick.”
The Rebels opened the season Tuesday at Clinton’s Schoolhouse Open without seniors Kaitlynn Riley and Mariah Casey.
Riley finished fourth in the Big East Conference and ninth in the state meet last fall. She enters the season ranked sixth in the individual rankings in 2A.
Coming off foot surgery, Casey missed much of the 2012 season but came back to take 11th in the conference and 58th at state. She won the Big East title as a sophomore and placed 12th in the state as a freshman and sixth in 2011.
Junior Hannah Kilburg, seventh in the conference and 25th at state last year, and sophomore Aleenah Marcucci, fifth in the Big East and 42nd at state, also have been less than 100 percent. Both are ranked individually, Kilburg 15th and Marcucci 29th, and Kilburg lowered her time at the Schoolhouse Open by about a minute from last year.
Also back for the Rebels are sophomore Alyssa Roth, the team’s No. 7 runner a year ago who took 74th at state, and Cara Soenksen, who ran for the Rebels at the 2011 state meet. Others battling for spots in the varsity lineup are Haleigh Hughes, Haley Bielenberg and Madlin Kaczinski.
“We don’t have an outstanding runner, although Kaitlynn got ninth at state last year,” Healy said. “We should have a pretty solid top five, and our six and seven should be pretty good. We’ve got a bunch of good runners. If we run as a pack, we’ll do well.
“If we’ve got anyone missing we’re in trouble. There are only nine runners out, so we’ve got to stay healthy.”