When Mike Sanders took over the Althoff cross country program three years ago he hoped to continue the Christian atmosphere of working as teammates and helping each other while continuing to become better people and better athletes.
With over 30 athletes in the program and with a win already under its belt in the first few weeks of the season, it’s safe to say the Althoff harriers are headed in the right direction.
“It’s just a tremendous experience for me to be able to coach and watch these young athletes work hard to become a team,” Sanders said. “They are competitive with each other because they realize that are only so many spots available. But we also want to be there to love and help each other as teammates.
“Our program is growing. We are getting athletes from other sports who have come out and who are improving each day. Our goal is to keep improving as the season goes on and hopefully be at our best by the middle or late October when the state (series) begins.”
The Crusaders feature a young boys team which Sanders hopes will reach the Class 1A Sectional. However, the Crusaders girls team, which barely missed qualifying for the state meet two years ago, could be in the running for a trip to beautiful Detweiller Park in Peoria in early November.
The Crusaders have two of the top sophomores in the metro-east in Tiffani and Gabbi Siekmann as well as senior Amanda Kaltwasser ready to lead the way for a team which has already won the New Athens Invitational and placed 13th in the 28-team field at the First to the Finish Invitational at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville two weeks ago.
Tiffani Siekmann led the way for Althoff at the First to the Finish race, placing 13th overall.
“Gabbi and Amanda have been bothered by nagging injuries early but Tiffani looked strong at the meet at SIUE which is good because that’s where we’ll be in the postseason. To be able to place 13th was a solid finish because there were more than Class 1A teams there,” Sanders said. “I was pleased at how we ran at New Athens. Our captains and the rest of the girls were pretty determined to win it again.”
Sophomore Andersyn Foster and senior Lizzie Michael along with sophomore Claire Hill are also expected to help out as are Lucy Haas, Kyra Humbert and Elizabeth Harla.
The goal for the Althoff girls team is clearly laid out.
“I would like to think we have a chance to be to state. But its always tough because only five teams go,” Sanders said. “We’ve been close. Hopefully this is the year we get over the top.”
The Crusaders boys squad probably won’t be in the running for a berth in the state finals, but it could be line for a bid to the sectionals finals. At least that is what Sanders is hoping.
“That’s a realistic goal and I would think we have a shot of getting to the sectional,” Sanders said. “Once we have someone break 19:30 over three miles, I think you’ll see several others do it as well. We just want to keep improving as the season goes on and we’ll take our chances when the regional meet gets here.”
Like the girls team, the Crusaders boys squad placed in the middle of the pack — 20th in the 34-team division — at SIUE.
Junior Jon Dykstra led the way by placing 96th overall in just over 21:30. Senior Andrea Ellis was second for Althoff, while three juniors — John Leshikar, Dimitry Oestereich and Justin Bayus — rounded out the top five runners.