Overall, the Belfast Area High School cross-country squads may be young in age and experience, but that does not mean the student-athletes cannot run fast and be successful. Thirteen-year Lion coach Joanne Nealey feels the teams, while young, will prove their worth during the coming weeks.

“We have a solid group,” she said. “We have a very young group, but a very solid group. It should be an exciting year to watch them improve throughout the season.”

The Lion boys include seniors Karl Stearns, Bryan Cunningham and Willie Hurley; juniors John Loxterkamp, Tucker Sturdevant and Ben Lowe; sophomores Carl Pillitteri, Kyle Williams, Grant Richards, Jordan Hill, Miles Lamar, Stephen Colby, Patrick Artkop and Houston Mathis; and freshmen Luis Mauser, Ari Snider, Hendrick Andrew, Douglas Wich and Caleb Bixby.

Curtis Griffin, from Mount View, also runs with the team as an independent for the Mustangs.

The Lion girls include seniors Hannah Hill and Elizabeth Rauch; juniors Abbie Wessels and Clare Olson; sophomores Kellie Howie, Gracie Sheldon and Maddie Wich; and freshmen Taylor Knowlton, Romy Carpenter, Cassandra Howard, Briahna Loring, Zoe Grant, Alexia Hersom and Nancy Joslen.

The teams lost Ryan James, Willie Leach, Chris Brown, Patrick Howard, James Knight, Skylar Olson, Noah Congdon and Andrej Slama to graduation.

“Basically, our varsity runners have graduated so we have a new crew,” said Nealey. “But the good news is we have a lot of very talented underclassmen that will be running for us this year.”

She highlighted Mauser, Mathis, Richards on the boys side and Wessels, Howie and Rauch for the girls.

Mauser was undefeated when he ran for Troy Howard Middle School and won the Busline League championship. “He is going to be one of our stronger runners,” Nealey said. “Wait ’till you see him run, he is just so fluid and he makes it look so easy.”

She also has high hopes for Wessels, who placed 11 in the regional competition last year, 17th at state and was first in the season-opening meet Sept. 3 in Winslow. “She’s been running all summer long. She is coming into the season in great shape so I expect that she is just going to continue to improve,” the coach said.

Nealey said many runners have been training off-season. “It’s nice to see that some of the kids returning did a lot of running and are now coming into the season with a strong base.”

The goal for this season is for the teams to qualify for the state championship meet and Nealey thinks, that with hard work, it could be done. As of now she wants to get her student-athletes to comfortably run a 5K (3.1 miles) and feel good about it. Then she wants to work on shaving off time for competition.

Nealey said although the teams are young, that could be their strength.

“Right now the strength is that we are a young group and they are all very motivated to run and they seem to be a very dedicated group,” she said. “I mean they have been really consistent with being at practice and they are just working very hard.”

This year’s girls team also has more runners than it has in about 10 years, which could help them considerably, the coach said.

According to the coach, Belfast has not qualified a girls team to the state meet in years because the squad has not had the five necessary runners to compete in the regional, which is the state qualifier. This year “certainly that’s a goal,” Nealey said. “It might be difficult this first year, but certainly, if people stay healthy and continue to work hard, we may be able to achieve that goal.”

Nealey has a positive attitude about the fall campaign. “I’m really looking forward to the season,” she said. “The kids all have great attitudes and there are a lot of kids that I’ve never worked with and I’m really looking forward to the season.”

The Lions opened the season Sept. 3 in Winslow. In that meet, both Lion squads finished fifth.

The Lions will host Rockland and Medomak Valley in a meet Friday, Sept. 10 at 4 p.m.

Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at fritz@villagesoup.com.