After several years of middle-of-the-pack finishes, the Belleville East Lancers may be ready to climb back among the elite cross country programs in the Southwestern Conference this fall.
At least that's what Lancers coaches Bryan Mitchell and Joe Byrne are hoping.
"I know the season is just getting started and we've got a long way to go until November, but I like what we've got this season,'' Mitchell said. "Our numbers are very good, the attitude is great and we've got a lot of runners back who competed last year and who put in a lot of miles this summer.
"The goal is to have a good season and hopefully be running our best in late October at the regional and sectional. It would be nice to be able to get some runners to the state meet. I think we've got the talent to get there.''
Part of Mitchell's optimism stems from a solid performance at the Belleville West Meet on Saturday. While the Lancers aren't ready to challenge state powers O'Fallon and Edwardsville in either division, Mitchell liked what he saw.
"We had one runner (Joseph Kraus) under 17 minutes for three miles and we had four others break 18, and for this time of year those aren't bad times. We're ahead of the pace we were a year ago in both the boys and the girls,'' Mitchell said. "The goal now is to keep working and keep bringing the times down as we go along here.''
Competing without one of the SWC's best in injured junior Brendan Karwoski, the Lancers boys were led by Kraus, who was second overall in 16 minutes 57 seconds.
Senior Lucas Bernol, a sectional qualifier for the Lancers wrestling team, was ninth in 17 minutes 42 seconds, while experienced senior Xavier Hall was tenth in 17:46.
Imani Franklin (14th) and Jared Brockmeyer (19th) rounded out the Lancers top five runners. Also running well for the Lancers were Patrick Gaul, Nick Lopez, Jason Erb and Ben Thuringer.
On the girls side, sophomore Sydney Hartung (15th) and junior Haley Inyart (17th) led the way for the Lancers, who feature both youth and talent in 2014.
Sarah Gompers (20th), Kaitlynn Sanchez (21st) and Cassidy Anderson (23rd) also ran well for East.
Rounding out the Lancers current top 10 runners are Seleiya Wilson, Alexis Anderson, Megan Korte, Caityln Peters and Allison Kraus.