BIG HORN — Thirteen athletes may not seem like a high number, but it represents the high-water mark for the Big Horn High School cross country team during its four-year existence.
“The program is building momentum,” head coach Dan Biebel said.
The program started a few years ago with only a handful of runners. In the first two years, neither the boys nor girls team had the requisite five runners to qualify in team scoring.
There are only two runners on the girls side this year but 11 for the boys team, more than enough for a full varsity group. Junior Billy Watson should lead the boys team this year.
After recovering for a few weeks earlier in the summer from a hip injury sustained during track, Watson pounded the pavement in preparation for this season, often with the high-energy sounds of Skillet blasting to his ears.
Watson enjoys the individual aspect within the team sport and having most of the pressure on himself.
“You’re all by yourself,” Watson said. “It just comes down to who’s the toughest, who’s got the most guts and who wants it most. That’s what I really like about it.”
Watson’s goals this year include finishing in the top 10 at the state meet — he took 19th last season — and running under 17 minutes and 30 seconds in the 3.1-mile race.
Watson tries to start out quick and gradually make up ground as the race progresses. If someone is closely in front of him, Watson tells himself, “Go get that guy” when races near their ends.
Sophomore Elizabeth Foley prefers running with no music and having the time to sort out her thoughts.
Foley usually paces herself the first two miles and then tries to pick it up near the end. Similar to Watson, Foley tells herself to keep going in the final few minutes of a race, but that is far easier said than done.
“Some days, if you’re not feeling good, you want to give up,” Foley said. “You have to tell yourself to keep going. That’s mental toughness.”
Biebel said the program has a few goals this season. Individually, he’d like to see the athletes grow as runners and people. For the team, Biebel believes the boys can sneak into a trophy spot this year, which is awarded to the top four teams at state. It seems doable, as the Rams took fifth last year and return all seven of their state runners.
Perhaps most importantly, the season also serves as quality preparation for track in winter and spring.
“We’re trying to augment the track program with a good nucleus of distance runners,” Biebel said.
With the cross country numbers increasing, that nucleus should expand going forward.