Bobcats deep and talented in 2005
In 2002, the year before BLHS cross country coach Jeff Venema arrived, the cross country team had a total of four runners. Now, with Venema entering his third year, the team has grown to 26 runners.
The numbers on the girls side are especially strong and Venema is expecting good things from his girls team this season. The girls return their top seven runners from a year ago. Two of those returning runners, sophomores Caren Chellgren and Jessica Smolinski, made second team all Kaw Valley league last season. Returning junior runners Amanda Vitt and Emily McAfoos were honorable mention for all league.
Venema is also expecting big things from junior Megan Tush. Tush is Venema's only runner to ever qualify for state, a feat she accomplished her freshman season. But last season, Tush struggled at the regional meet, which is why she did not make the all league team.
Tush went to work this summer to try to regain her freshman form. She got up early every morning to run four to six miles.
"Megan Tush is a girl that dedicated herself all summer to running," Venema said.
With their best runners back, the girls have depth and experience at the varsity level. The boys side, however, is not as lucky. The numbers are still low but the team does have three strong runners at the top in sophomore Alex Vitt, junior Stephen Dyer and junior Josh Baptista, who was an honorable mention for all league last season.
The boys team also gained a new runner for the 2005 season in senior Kyle Blanks. Blanks has never gone out for the team before but Venema expects him to compete at the varsity level.
The growth of the cross country program could be attributed to the close relationship Venema has with all of his runners. He can be found joking with his runners in the training room as they cool down their legs after practice. His runners seem to have a comfort level around the third year coach in which they can be themselves and act like kids. He appreciates this bond he has with his runners.
"What I really like about this year is we have really nice kids," Venema said. "They help each other out. They're good people. Most the time they're really good students.
"We have a very good relationship. They know that they have my support and I know I have theirs. We enjoy each others company."