With the endurance required and the rigorous nature of cross country taken head-on, runners clawing for every millisecond are faced with increased pressure from an uber-competitive Class B landscape.
The Beulah-Hazen boys cross country team last year overcame internal pressure following a mid-season injury to No. 3 runner Dayton Fiddler. The squad performed its best near the season's finish line, exceeding its own expectations.
"For a team that should've finished ninth or tenth, the boys finished sixth and did about as well as we could've expected," said co-head coach Brian Sitz, who will lead the program alongside Brooke Haugstad following the departure of Mary Hoherz. "It was a pretty awesome performance by them at the end of the season, just about everybody ran personal bests. We really couldn't have asked for any more of a big effort on a big stage like that."
Fiddler will enter his junior season in 2018 as Beulah-Hazen returns seven state qualifiers. Senior Isak Olson, the team's highest state finisher in 25th, and freshman Ian Busche top a crew of 15 boys on the roster.
"It's going to be our three guys of Isak, Ian and Dayton that will be leading the pack," Sitz said. "We're going to have a group of potentially seven other boys that are within 30 seconds of those guys."
Finishing one spot ahead of Beulah-Hazen was fellow area power Bowman County.
The Bulldogs will be without state-qualifying graduates Andrew Miller and Dillon Eagon, but still remain one of the more talented teams in North Dakota.
Sophomore Brian Miller captured 13th place in the state meet while junior Camden Wokel claimed 32nd. Six others who raced in the state meet are back in the fold.
Compared to the two previously mentioned teams, the Killdeer boys are a rarity. Highlighted by All-Region runners in freshman Jace Anderson and senior Stephen Westarp, the Cowboys are one of the few teams to return all of their state runners from a year ago; that group includes a number of hungry youngsters.
"We've got a pile of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders coming up," Killdeer head coach Nathan Horgeshimer said. "A couple of them looked very strong and aren't afraid to try and run with the older guys in practice. They look like they can go surprise some people this year towards the end of season once they got their legs underneath them and get a little more experience."
Killdeer's boys team is aiming for a better exclamation point to this campaign juxtaposed to 2017. The Cowboys took home ninth in the regional meet, but tumbled below expectations at state, finishing 18th.
For the Killdeer girls, the opposite happened, as a lackluster regional performance was erased with a 10th place finish at the end of the year.
"We had a rough day at Regionals, didn't have the greatest day there, and then they really came back, ran by far their best race of the year in Valley City," Horgeshimer said.
Shawnee Hansen grabbed the 50th spot to pace the Cowboys, completing the state 5K in 21 minutes and 57.51 seconds. After the squad lost three girls to graduation, Hansen will help fill the senior leadership void as the team hopes to steer clear of any setbacks.
"We were talking just yesterday and she even mentioned, 'We just look like we're looking better to start the season,'"Horgeshimer said. "We're not so worn down during runs and are just looking a little stronger, so that's always a positive thing."
Sophomore Hannah Benz and eighth-grader Danielle Dobitz weren't too far behind Hansen, taking 54th and 56th place, respectively.
Like the boys team, the Bowman County girls lost two graduates from a year ago, but while Ethan Fischer will be the lone boys 12th grader, Abigail Bartholomay, Becki Fuchs, and Michaela Fischer are tasked with the senior stripes. The Bulldogs finished 13th at state last season, paced by junior Alexius Miller, who crossed the finish line in 27th place.
Beulah-Hazen's girls team is coming off a surprise 16th place state finish, in spite of a low roster total.
Katie Duttenhefer, who topped the team charts in 31st place, will attend Bond University in the Australia this fall. She is the only departure as four others who earned spots in the top 150 are back to a team that has doubled in size.
"The interesting thing is that this year, we actually have 16 girls. We didn't expect to see that many come out this year," Sitz said. "Suddenly, we've had a number of girls to continue to join the team, which is awesome for us because we haven't seen this many in years. I'd say it's been close to 10 years since this many girls have come out for cross country."