The Bemidji High cross country teams launch their 2009 season Monday, running at the Moorhead Invitational.
The meet has been the traditional season opener for many years and gives Bemidji a chance to match its talents against many of the area's better teams.
In recent years, it has given them a better chance of placing higher in the standings since it no longer attracts the top North Dakota teams that once competed.
Those teams start a week earlier than Minnesota and had already run once or twice.
Moorhead is still the team to beat, taking last year's boys title with a near perfect 18 points to 78 for Perham.
Bemidji was fourth with 103 behind Willmar in an 11-team field, Erik Truedson was third and Zac Oelrich eighth. That pair went on to qualify for the state meet. Both have graduated.
Moorhead won the girls crown with 21 points to 35 for Willmar with Bemidji seventh with 198.
This year's field will have 13 teams with the Spuds and Bemidji joined by Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Staples, East Grand Forks, Hawley, Park Rapids, Perham, Pelican Rapids, Thief River, Willmar and DGF.
Ryan Aylesworth begins his second season as head coach after trading places with Dennis Bartz last fall. Bartz will be back as top assistant, his 29th year in the program. Steve Sneide returns to guide the Middle School.
While the boys program is flourishing, the girls is struggling to stay alive.
There will be 31 boys out this fall paced by 10 lettermen.
The girls have only nine, two moving up from the Middle School team.
That squad had only a handful of girls in 2008 and is badly in need of reinforcements.
Heading the boys are seniors Dylan Jones, Corey Huber, Jake Fisher and Justin Byers, juniors Andy Berube, Alex Schoneberger, Jake Urban and cousins John and Trent Buckanaga and sophs Dan Clemenson and Ryan Erickson.
The girls have senior letter winners Betsy Richards and Chelsea Johnson and sophs Kim Truedson, Alex Lyren and Hana Felix.
A major addition is track distance star Bailey Drewes who switched from soccer this fall to join Laura Thompson as the only 11th graders. Amber Solheim and Liz Vick move up from the eighth grade ranks.
Felix and Thompson will be missing for the opener leaving Aylesworth only six runners to enter. Vick will run in the junior high race. Drewes, Truedson, Solheim, Lyren and Johnson will compete in the varsity race.
The boys will go with Schoneberger, John Buckanaga, Berube, Clemenson, Urban, Danielson, Huber, Scott Haselbus, Byers and Jones in the varsity event where teams may enter 10.
The remainder will run the JV or junior high races. Bemidji was third in the boys JV and fourth in the junior high events last season.
With the Middle School not starting practice until school opens, Bemidji can enter only its freshmen in the junior high division. Fortunately it has seven boys in that grade to go with nine sophs, six juniors and nine seniors. a good balance for the future.