Althoff cross country coach Mike Saunders couldn’t believe his eyes when a record 23 athletes showed up for the first day of workouts a couple of weeks ago.
“We are growing, growing and growing some more. I don’t know exactly why but I feel like God has truly blessed us to have the opportunity to work with all these young people,” Sanders said. “The word has gotten out around school how much fun it is to come out and be part of a team. Be part of a lifestyle change that will help make you more healthy.
“The talent level of course varies from those who are very good to those who are just beginning and are a little slow. But the begniners are ones to be excited about because they are out here trying and like I said before, are undergoing a lifestyle change.”
The Crusaders program is not only growing, it’s also having some early season success. The girls team, which missed a trip to the Class A state cross country meet by just three points last season, posted an easy win in its first competition of the season on Tuesday at the New Athens Invitational.
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Getting a 10th-place finish from Amanda Kaltwasser and top 20 efforts from four other runners, Althoff finished with 78 points, 46 fewer than runner-up Roxana.
“Our girls team came so close to getting to the state finals last year that they are determined to get there this year. We take a training trip every year to Forest Park and on that trip one of the goals they said they had was to get to the state,” Sanders said. “Last year we had a superstar in Grace (Rowan). This year there are no stars. Just a group of girls who are working hard with one goal in mind.
“We use these meets as training to improve and get us ready for the state series in November. The goal is to keep improving and be at our best in late October.
In addition to Kaltwasser, Althoff also got very good efforts from Lizzy Michael (14th overall), Tiffani Siekmann (15th), Sophie Monken (19th) and Gabbi Siekmann (19th).
All-state runner Keri Burmester of Red Bud won the individual championship.
Althoff did not fare as well in the boys race, placing 12th in the 16-team field. But at least Althoff did field a team. \
At New Athens a year ago, Althoff had only two individual athletes.
”The boys didn’t do as well, but they all gave a great effort. That’s a big part of it right there,” Sanders said. “The big thing I see with both the boys and girls teams are that they are starting to run in a pack a little more. In cross country if you run in a tight pack, that’s a good thing.
“The kids are starting to get it. They are helping each other out during the race. They are grasping the idea that while cross country is an individual sport, it’s got a strong team aspect to it as well.”
Sophomore Danny Braunage led the Althoff boys at New Athens, placing 32nd and covering the 3-mile course in 18 minutes and 58 seconds.
Senior Jarrid Braunagel was 56th while Chris Dunn placed 58th overall for Althoff. Rounding out the top five Crusaders were Cameron Clemmons, who was 109th, and Andre Elis, who placed 132nd.
The Crusaders are back in action Saturday at the Metro East Preview Meet, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.