Bringing home the first state trophy in school history in 2010 was nice, but there's more to come for the Marmion cross country program.
The Cadets have a record 75 runners out for the team, up from 21 just five years ago when Dan Billish started as coach.
"We are coming off a banner year for the program, but our stance is that it is just the beginning," said Billish, whose team took third in Class 2A breaking a tie with Normal on the Cadets' sixth runner's place.
Marmion does have to replace a pair of state standouts in Ben Kanute and Bennett Marsh.
"Most would believe we are rebuilding, but I have been pleasantly surprised this off-season," Billish said.
That's because Marmion still has a 1-2 punch in seniors Nolan Dickson and Will Graft. Dickson recently ran a 5K with splits of 4:27, 9:41 closing in 14:46.
Dickson has been participating in the US Triathlon Nationals but plans to forego worlds to focus on cross country and a top five state finish. He missed the Aurora City Meet last week but should return for the Jeff Leavey Invitational Saturday.
Senior Rich Parilla is pushing up front followed by depth from state veterans seniors Matt Choice and Brady Hunt, and sophomore standouts Eric Lifka, Carter Dickson, John Graft and Tim Riordan.
The depth continues with a pair of juniors who competed on the state stage in Josh Kanute and Liam O'Dea.
"With five of the top seven returning and nine of our top 12, we are looking to really step it up this season and shoot for a bigger trophy come November," Billish said.
Billish said team goals beside state include a sixth straight conference title, third straight regional championship and competing for a sectional title with the 2010 state champion Belvedere North.
"The boys have maintained level heads through all of it and confidence is high," Billish said.
Billish beefed up the schedule with a meet in Peoria for the first time and invites with 3A schools at St. Charles North, West Aurora and St. Charles East.
"We will be tested as we were last year, but it paid dividends at the end of the season," Billish said. "I will also be experimenting with a variety of lineups to increase training loads during the season and rest the bodies in need."
As good as Marmion should be this year, West Aurora opened the season winning the Aurora City Meet over the Cadets who did not have their full lineup.
West Aurora is coming off its first state appearance in 35 years. Its top three runners graduated, but Matt Sinnott's team is primed for another big year.
"The summer has been great," Sinnott said. "They have put together a solid amount of miles and have very high expectations for themselves and the season."
Junior Omar Gomez and junior Josh Robinson opened the year with a 1-2 finish at the City Meet.
They will be joined by junior Robert Herrera, senior Calvin Robinson, junior Graham Isaacson, senior Nate Pealstrom, junior Alan Martinez, senior Vontrel Hawkins, junior Zach Truckenbrod and junior Brandon McKay on a top seven that will be relying on a tight pack.
Junior Deonta Motley also is vying for a spot in the top seven.
"To be honest with you, this year's squad has the potential to do just as good, if not better, than last year," Sinnott said. "Losing three tough runners in the front like Steve Loran, Ryan Bartell and Matt Muth is hard, but what people may not realize is that West Aurora is returning five runners who ran at the state meet.
"I don't believe any team who finished ahead of us is returning that many. We were a young and raw team in 2010, and this year we are bringing back experience and higher expectations. What we may lack for front-runners, we actually make up for the tighter pack of 1-5 that we haven't had before. I expect to see 1-5 super close and highly competitive at the meets on our schedule."
Geneva also made it to state last year. The Vikings had a solid year and peaked at the sectionals where they made an improbable run to the team title -- the first in school history.
Three runners return from that team -- senior Peter Archibald, and juniors Nate Wendt and Mike Bianchina.
"We are counting on several underclassman to fill in for our graduates," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said of a sophomore team that won the Upstate Eight last season.
Those runners include sophomores Blaine Bartel, Stephen Guevara and Dan Dudman, and juniors Dan Herrera, Christian Stornello and Blake Peik.
In addition, 12 freshmen came out for the team and some could break into the top 10.
Elsewhere in the UEC, St. Charles North looks to be a tough team to beat with seniors Declan Duggan, Grant Markowicz and Zack Heuer, along with juniors Spencer Gray and Ryan McSweeney. That's five of their top seven from the end of last year.
"Experience is on our side," North Stars coach Kevin Harrington said.
Throw into the mix seniors Matt Davis, Kevin Kilroy and Max Rogowski, along with juniors Nick Borger and Ryan Joyce, and the North Stars have what it takes to get back to state.
"This squad is quickly becoming a family of runners," Harrington said. "They are realizing the strength that comes from running as a pack. Our success will be dependent on a really tight split between our first and seventh runners. If our seniors can run toward the front I am confident that the rest of the team will be right behind them to create some quality team scores. I am really looking forward to seeing how we look in a meet."
St. Charles East lost six of its top seven to graduation, so coach Chris Bosworth calls this fall a rebuilding year.
Bosworth expects junior Adam Phillips, junior Jesus Galvan and senior Frankie Priore to be a consistent top three and the last four spots to change weekly.
"I have a very young and inexperienced team," Bosworth said.
In the mix for the final four spots are sophomores Max Rowland and Lucas Werner plus senior Jon Belshiem and junior Connor Cockerham. Others to watch include junior Nathan Iwanski, sophomore Mike Meyer and senior Ryan Shannon.
Bosworth said the theme for the team is "glue" and holding together.
"This group has a much better sense of team than last year," Bosworth said. "No more distractions for this team -- just put in the work and good things will come to this group.
"I see ourselves pack running. We won't have a standout, but should have a close spread. Hopefully under 45 seconds by the end of the year. The team has worked hard this summer putting in more miles then ever before. We have stressed the importance of the long run. I think we can finish in the top 10 or 12 in sectionals. That's a huge jump from years past."
Batavia's Mike Redmond is primed for a big senior season. Redmond shined in many races as a junior, and he got his senior year off to a good start taking third at the Elgin City Meet on Tuesday with a time of 16:16, just 11 seconds off the winning pace.
Chris Spadafora is running right behind Redmond for the Bulldogs. Other Batavia runners to watch include senior Brandon Phillips, senior Kevin Millen, senior Ben Helfrecht and senior Sean Sommer.
Troy Kerber's Aurora Central Chargers have seven returnees with varsity experience. According to Dyestat, the Chargers enter the year ranked No. 12 in Class 2A.
"With this ranking expectations are high," said Kerber, who is excited about a fifth sectional in Class 2A that should help the Chargers' bid for a state berth after battling the loaded field at Belvidere North.
Aurora Central's returning sectional qualifiers include junior Matt Meyers, the team's No. 1 runner last year. Senior Alex Duncan, the No. 2 runner, also is back along with the four through seven runners: junior Adrian Alviar, senior Matt Marter, junior Justin Jerwers and junior Daniel Aguilera.
Junior Oscar Gomez, injured last year, is projected as a top three runner.
Juniors Jeremiah McCue, Paul Hinterlong and Benito Vega, along with sophomores Carter Taylor, Javier Montelongo and Matt Knapp and freshman Daniel Aquino are other runners Kerber is excited about.
"Honestly, at this point we prefer to stay up (true enrollment 540)," Kerber said. "We like the challenge of competing against the Belvidere North, Marmion Academy, Crystal Lake Central's of the world. Overall, it the experience has promoted the overall level of our athletes to a much higher level (than if) we were in 1A. Our kids have worked hard this summer, and we are looking forward to a great season."
Kaneland coach Chad Clarey doesn't have quite as many returnees. Seniors Clayton Brundige and Nate Rehkopf figure to be in the top seven.
Brundige was there last year but fell ill at the end of the season. He then qualified in the spring track season on the state 3,200 relay team. Rehkopf had a great fall and spring, according to Clarey, and the two provide the team leadership.
Juniors Conor Johnson and John Meisenger also had strong track seasons. They were each varsity top seven runners on last fall's team that finished sixth at the Belvidere sectional.
"Each had outstanding summer training, and are leading the pack often times in practices," Clarey said.
Senior Miki Marin is out for the first time after playing football the past three years. He won a conference title in track in the 800 and ran on the state 3,200 relay.
"He is one of the most physically fit runners we've ever had, considering his core strength," Clarey said. "He's going through a bit of a learning curve in getting used to the longer distance, but we feel it is only time before that clicks in. He's right with his teammates on all workouts, which we feel is very encouraging. He has aspirations of running in college, and feels that this is one good step in making that a reality."
Sophomores to keep an eye on include Kyle Carter, Ryan Bower, Luis Acosta and newcomer Nathaniel Kucera. Seniors include Austin Paulson, Frank Furco, Kelvin Peterson and John Michek while juniors Nick Messina, Ryan Paulson, Nick Albano, Brad Kigyos, Gus Stott, Brandon Huber and Chris Wido all have a chance to move up.
"We like the chemistry this team has been developing since our summer training runs," Clarey said. "We've altered some of our workouts in order to maximize the talent that this team possesses. We certainly will be looking to improve upon our seventh-place finish from conference a year ago."
Kaneland hosts its own Larry Eddington Invite on Sept. 17. Clarey also is interested to see what the IHSA does for the Knights' postseason draw with an additional 2A sectional.
"Because of this new change to Class 2A, we are hopeful that we can put together a good lineup of healthy runners in October that will net a sub-50 second split, 1-5 and possibly 1-7," Clarey said. "We seem to have nice depth at this point in the season, and we are hopeful that our team will continue to battle one another for top seven spots on a weekly basis. That's what makes a team truly special. When every runner is fighting for a spot, that team is tough to beat."