Defending a championship can sometimes be harder than winning your first one.
That's exactly the scenario facing the Harper men's cross country team this season.
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But coach Jim Macnider is expecting big things for his team, calling it "the deepest group" in his three years at the helm.
"There's 10 guys who can be in the top eight, but I can only take eight to nationals," he said.
Macnider expects each race this season to be a battle which could have an effect on which individuals are selected for the national meet.
The Hawks did suffer a huge loss with the graduation of individual national champion Troy Cunningham. But Macnider has a trio of talented sophomores.
One of them is Nick Modlin, who was 17th at the national meet last season. He also earned All-American recognition last season on the track and figures to be the team's leader to start the season.
Macnider says improvements from veterans Johan Lino and Vince Greco will play a key role, and the coach is also intrigued by a promising freshman group that features former Palatine High School teammates Zach Stella and Sebastian Ramirez.
Macnider understands the importance of recruiting runners from good high school programs.
"It's nice to get kids out of Palatine," he said.
Despite missing summer training due to an injured knee, Brennan Albuck (Hoffman Estates) could be a big piece of the title puzzle.
One athlete who could benefit from the increase in distance from high school to the college level is Juan Barajas (Schaumburg). According to Macnider, "The longer he runs, the better he is."
The same could be said of the other newcomers.
"The increase in distance may be a good thing for the freshmen," Macnider said.