Four runners return from a squad that placed sixth at the 6A state meet. Complimenting them is a copious amount of returners from a junior varsity squad that championed the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I JV race a year ago.
When Emily Hornbeck and Amber Green crossed the finish line at the state meet this past season, they became the first girls in Derby school history to medal all four years at the state meet. Hornbeck was fourth individually.
Trying to replace that production with one person is a tall task. Instead, Derby will spread the expectations out amongst the varsity squad.
“I think with our girls, our strength is our depth,” said Eldon Edwards, Derby head coach. “They’re not going to replace those top girls, but I told the girls if you lose 30 points from Emily but have two girls that can be 15 points better each – you might not be able to replace her with one, but you can replace her with two.”
As expected, Kaittlin Cabrin is leading the pack as the Panthers’ top returner after placing 39th at state, running times close to 15 minutes in practice. However, she has some unexpected company.
Senior Melynda Bussman is riding stark improvements over the summer to nearly keep pace with Cabrin. Freshman newcomer Grace Mitchell is right behind them.
Madi Greenwood, Chandler Benway and Alyxis Bowens join Cabrin as returners with state experience. Bowens was a state track champion in the 400-meter dash.
The Derby boys’ roster is paced by standout senior Brandon Lewis, who placed 28th at state. After battling health concerns for years, Edwards said Lewis is targeting medal contention.
“He’s got tons of experience. He’ll be really good,” Edwards said. “I think he’s really matured, and I think, hopefully, this is his year.”
Outside of Lewis, much of the boys’ team was hesitant to push into top gear when it counted this past season. That ho-hum attitude has passed.
“I think it really has. I’m really excited about those guys,” Edwards said. “I think we’ll be quite a bit better with our boys.”
Seniors Nathan Melton and Evan Julius have made offseason strides. Sophomore Liam Ormiston returns after an impressive showing in his first year on varsity.
Right now, Edwards said about eight other runners are competing for the fifth spot. If someone spurts ahead to claim the spot, Derby may have a team capable of qualifying as a team for the first time since 2009.
But those expectations will only be made by the athletes themselves.
“I don’t make their goals. They make their goals. I try to get them ready and tell them what they can expect. The goals are theirs, not mine,” Edwards said. “I think they will have pretty high goals, though.”
Derby opens the season at the Bishop Carroll Invitational at Lake Afton on Sept. 1. The Panthers get a taste of the 6A state course on Sept. 22 at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence. Regionals are Oct. 20, with the state meet at Rim Rock a week later.