GOOSE LAKE -- If coach Mike Mattis can get everybody healthy, his Northeast boys cross country team should remain strong. If not ...
The Rebels are led by senior Eli Kaczinski, who won the Big East Conference individual title each of the past two years and was part of teams that won three straight conference titles.
The Big East is no more, and the Rebels will compete in the River Valley Conference this fall, but Kaczinski still gives the Rebels a strong lead runner.
He has competed at the state meet each of the past three years, finishing 23rd in Class 2A last season, 33rd as a sophomore and 27th in Class 1A as a freshman. Ranked 14th individually in Class 2A by the coaches association, he got his senior season off to a strong start Tuesday, placing second at Clinton’s Schoolhouse Open.
“He’s been working his butt off,” Mattis said. “That’s not a big surprise.”
Mattis welcomes back all but one runner from his varsity lineup of a year ago -- Connor Soenksen, who graduated. But two of the team’s best runners are hobbled.
“(Things) will look a lot better if we get two guys back running,” Mattis said, referring to Nick Anderson and Nick Kennicker. “They’re hurting from work they did last spring. We’re bringing them along slowly.”
Anderson, a senior, placed third in the Big East meet last year and ran on teams that qualified for the state meet the two previous years. But he is trying to come back from surgery for a stress fracture.
Kennicker was the Rebels’ fifth scorer in the Big East meet last year, finishing 10th.
“With those two guys we’re pretty good; otherwise, we’ve got Eli and the rest,” Mattis said. “If those two guys come back, that’s (a solid) 1-2-3 if they run to their capabilities.”
Hunter Bielenberg, who placed ninth in the conference last year, was Northeast’s second finisher at the Schoolhouse Open, taking 19th.
Also back are Brendon Butler, 13th in the conference and part of the seven-man lineup at the 2011 state meet, and Jaden Butler, 14th in the Big East last fall. Mattis also was happy to see Christian Knutsen finish as the team’s No. 3 runner at the Schoolhouse Open. He is trying to return to the form he showed as a freshman in 2011, when he placed 12th in the conference and was the No. 7 runner on the team that went to state before having some health issues last year. Junior Sam Smith also has impressed the coach early.
The Rebels know they’ll need to be at full strength in their new conference, which includes defending state champion and top-rated Monticello and No. 4 Tipton, among others.