The Melrose-Mindoro cross country program manages to consistently find success.

That’s not always easy for a small school where football and volleyball draw athletes for fall sports. But this year the Mel-Min girls cross country team again returned to state while the boys squad maintained its competitiveness.

The secret?

“It’s the kids,” said five-year head coach Sarah Thompson. “I just have been blessed with kids who are willing to work hard and who enjoy cross country.

“As a coach, they’re addicting. I want to go to practice and I want to coach them.”

The Lady Mustangs this year won another Dairyland Conference championship and were sectional runner-up en route to a trip to state where they finished 16th.

Junior harrier Macy Craig said the team’s success was not a surprise.

“Making state was an honor and so exciting but not surprising,” said Craig, 17, who also ran with the 2011 state-bound team.

“I could see our team improving as the season went on, and I started to think, ‘Wow, we are fast.’”

The Mel-Min boys stayed competitive during the season and had a handful of meets where they finished in the middle. While they took fourth of four teams at the conference meet, the Mustang boys placed seventh of 13 at the sectional.

“It was a very good season for the boys,” Thompson said. “I think they were very happy with how they finished the season.

“They were all (running personal best times) at the end of the season. Our sectional is so competitive, and for them to do that good is great.”

With the end of the season, though, the teams will say goodbye to a handful of seniors.

Graduating from the girls team will be three-time state runner Tiana Mikel — a second team All-Conference selection — and Brianna Kowalsky, who made her first trip to state this year. Also graduating are Sam Kriesel and Stephanie Pipkin, both part of the 2011 team that went to state.

“I lose very good runners, but I also lose leadership,” Thompson said. “Those four are just great girls, and those are big shoes to fill.

“You can teach running, but you can’t teach leadership and personality.”

The boys team will lose two runners: four-year harrier Andy Marciulionis and first-year runner Jacob Olson, who took second at the JV conference meet.

“Andy is just a great kid and a great person. All four years he’s been dedicated and he always was all about the team,” Thompson said. “And Jacob Olson — you wouldn’t have known he wasn’t a runner for three years.”

But looking to next year, the Mel-Min cross country program is still expected to maintain its regular successes. Both teams return good experience with some up-and-coming runners.

Top returners for the girls will be sophomore Anna Morabito and Craig, both who were first team All-Conference selections and made their second trip to state this season.

Others coming back from this year’s state team will be sophomores Avery Aasen — a second team All-Conference selection — and Emily Oehler and freshman Marissa Sime.

“It’s a very solid team — they all come ready,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a nice young team, and the experience they already have will help us.”

The Mel-Min boys will return its core of varsity runners, led by a trio of juniors: second team All-Conference selection Jacob Bryhn, Brent Knudson — who was close to qualifying for state as an individual — and Derek Blaken.

Other top runners for the boys are sophomore David Bjorge and freshmen Isaiah Dolbier and Ryan Whitacre.

“I think having the boys do as well at the sectional will help us next year,” Thompson said. “They were competitive, and they’ll remember that next year.”

Thompson said she likes what she sees for the program in the coming years. With the help of its secret ingredient, of course.

“We’ve got a good solid future,” she said. “It’s the kids — they make it what it is.”

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