Going after a three-peat is never easy. The feat gets even more difficult when the head coach who's been at the helm during those championship years won't be part of the program for a season.
With head coach Missy Acker on sabbatical and both the boys and girls sides not returning some of their speed from a year ago, Northland Prep cross country took a hit.
Carl Perry and Ryan Linder, who are filling in for Acker, still see plenty of potential on both of the boys and girls squads.
Only one of Northland Prep's top-five finishers in last year's Division IV state title race returned for 2019 in Brandon Bounds, who in his junior year finished seventh in the state meet to help the Spartans win a second straight title. Meanwhile, the Spartans lost to graduation Micah Stanton, Sailor Starcher and Nalzheii Lonetree, and Hayden Andersen, who placed sixth at the 2018 state meet, decided not to come out for his senior season.
The boys do bring back some strength from last season, led by Bounds, junior Dana Leib-Perry and sophomore Malakai Hanson.
Bounds finished fourth in 2017's edition of the state meet, which ended with the Northland Prep boys snapping Hopi's streak of 27 consecutive championships. He followed that performance up with a seventh-place result in 2018 with a time of 16:43.63, besting the 17:01 he clocked in 2017's race.
"Brandon put in his best summer of training ever, and looks extremely fit in early-season workouts," Perry, who has coached NPA’s hurdlers on the track team for the past five seasons and also coached the Tuba City boys cross country and track teams from 2006 to 2010, said in an email.
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Leib-Perry was 15th in last year's state meet, and Hanson crossed the finish line in 20th.
The boys team dominated last season, with all seven of its runners finishing in the top 20 of the state meet.
Meanwhile, the girls side has its own shortcomings, unable to fill both varsity and JV squads. That, however, is leaving room for a pair of auspicious freshmen to step up this season.
According to Perry, freshmen Meg Moyer and Maya White have potential to be standout runners for the team in 2019.
"After spending their summers running far more consistently than most athletes coming out of middle school might run, the two are already leading many workouts," Perry said. "The joy they bring to practice every day, along with their fast running, will make NPA girls team a fun team to watch and root for in 2019."
Moyer and White will look to add their names to a list of Northland Prep freshmen who have had provided success to the program, including former Spartans Maya Smith, Valentina Nyhart and Jonathan, Nicholas and Benjamin Hall.
The young duo will be joined by lone senior Meg Moezzi, who was not one of the Spartans to compete in last year's girls D-IV state meet. Due to the shortage of returners this season and the loss of Kate Bailey and Maya Guthrie to graduation, sophomore Audrey Gillenwater is Northland Prep's fastest returning runner in 2019 a year after the team finished seventh at states and she placed 69th.