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The Baraboo prep boys cross country program is ready to return to its usual spot among the Badger North Conference competitors.

The Thunderbirds took a detour last year, finishing sixth out of eight teams at the Badger North meet at Beaver Dam Country Club.

“After winning the conference championship in 2017, we had a rebuilding year in the 2018 season,” said second-year coach Jake Boll, who took over last season when Peter Arndt retired after a career that saw him lead Baraboo to 26 conference titles. “We are now looking to get back with the front-runners of the competitive Badger North Conference. We are only losing one varsity runner and are gaining some hardworking and talented underclassmen. The boys have been running all summer to prepare for the season and have set high goals for themselves to continue Baraboo’s tradition of excellence.”

Ethan Agren was the lone T-Bird to graduate from the seven individuals that ran to a 10th-place finish at the 2018 WIAA Division 1 Madison West sectional. Agren was the second-fastest T-Bird at sectionals, trailing only incoming senior Garrett Exo, who took 28th place in 17 minutes, 17 seconds.

“(We) had a strong showing at the sectional meet, which took us into a strong offseason of training,” Boll said.

Exo was the lone veteran on the 2018 varsity team. Now, the captain and All-Badger North runner will be joined by a group of individuals that gained big-meet experience last season

“We’re returning nearly a full squad and I am optimistic about our chances this season about making another run at the conference title,” Boll said of the T-Birds, who are returning six of their top seven runners.

Seniors Alec Schmelzer and Malachi Krayer are back, as are juniors Max Statz, Cortney Dunnett and Carter Stapleton, and sophomore Evan Exo.

The veteran group, which also includes seniors Ben Beal, Chandler Dance and John Goeckermann, should be ready to go when the season opens Aug. 31 at Watertown.

“Garrett, Max and Alec have been running all summer and have been making sure that their teammates are joining them on their summer mile training,” Boll said. “Garrett and Max attended a running camp in Stevens Point this summer where they put in some great miles and learned some great strategies to bring back to the team this fall.”

A group of new underclassmen are also factoring into Baraboo’s plans and adding depth to a program that expects to have 29 athletes when practice starts Monday.

“Our team numbers are being bolstered by a group of sophomores coming out for the first time, as well as some freshman recruits who are showing great promise,” Boll said. “Sophomores Peyton Lee and Ethan Sefkar ran a nice 5K race this summer and will compete for varsity spots, and freshmen Kason Bode, Luke Statz and Derek Gehin are all looking to be real contributors.”

If everything comes together for Baraboo, the T-Birds will still have their work cut out for them to knock off Sauk Prairie, the defending Badger North champions who are returning a bulk of their contributors. Baraboo expects to join Sauk Prairie and DeForest at the top of the standings at the 2019 Badger North meet Oct. 19.

“Baraboo looks to get back in the fight,” Boll said.

Follow Brock Fritz on Twitter @BrockFritz

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