As a senior, Zachary Phillips is excited to close out his cross country racing career with a third trip to the WIAA state championships.
He's also excited to see what young Aquinas Blugolds teammates can do.
"I think really coming off that fourth place finish last year at state, we really wanted to dedicate ourselves this summer and throughout the season," said Phillips, the team's top runner but just one of two seniors on the varsity. "We're a young team, but we're an experienced team, so we're looking good.
The Blugolds return four runners from the 2014 state competition: sophomores Rory Campbell and Jeremiah DeGroot, junior Ryan Scheidt and Phillips. Alternate Dan Villare also competed in that race.
The same can be said for the girls team. Four runners from 2014's state meet are back, led by sophomores Ryanne Schneider and Caroline Gundersen.
Again, there are only two seniors though, compared to three freshman in the lineup.
"It's really fun to see the different ages on our team work together," senior Maya Walters said. "We were really surprised by some of (the underclassmen). The first day of summer running, they came out, ran together, but we tried to get them out of their shell and come run with us. We just saw a huge development over the season with coach's workouts and with his different plans that he had for us. I think it really helped our team and obviously proved itself in the runners as well."
Freshman Katie Joslyn said she felt welcomed from the start this season and has become much more comfortable as the season went on. On the course, she said sticking together as a group in races has been a large contributor to the team's success despite their age gap.
"We're just so welcoming to each other," Joslyn said. "We all have our own different skill level, and well all help each other out. We don't judge each other."
Fellow freshman Ethan Gregg has followed the footsteps of Phillips and has settled in to the middle of the lineup. He credits his growth as a runner this season to the guidance given by the upperclassmen and coach Geoff Wilhelmy.
"Through the whole year, they've been helping me, telling me what to do on each course, helping me to go harder at practice and even at the meets," Gregg said.
"The thing that really makes them click is the leadership," Wilhelmy said. "Zachary Phillips has been the, for all intensive purposes, my captain for the last three years and I've got Maya Walters and Mara Anderson for the girls. All those people mentioned are seniors (and) do a tremendous job of leading the teams."
Wilhelmy is telling his runners this week, no matter their age, to simply run up to their capabilities. He'll show them film from past races, including the 2007 boys championship team, and Zach Wilhelmy's title run in 2006.
Having watched the progression of their underclassmen all season long, Phillips and Walters believe they have a chance at a better finish this season than they did last year as long as everyone runs to their ability.
They're excited to do their part.
"Just knowing I can go to state my last race and finish it at state with my team and give it my all on one last cross country race," Walters said. "Show what you got in your last race."