However, the Mavericks will be in unfamiliar territory after changing divisions in their league and moving up one classification, from 4A to 5A. The good news is that their top runners, including senior Morgan Schaefer and junior Mady Nestor, are an experienced core that can help lead the squad.
The Maize South girls won the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League’s Division IV meet last year, claiming the top three individual spots. Nestor was league champion, followed by runner-up Schaefer and teammate Katie Trumble in third place.
The Mavericks won their Class 4A regional and had two representatives, Nestor and Schaefer, in the top five. Maize South capped its season with a second-place finish at state, where Schaefer took 10th and Nestor was 13th. They were the only Maverick runners to turn in top-20 times.
Although Birdsell emphasized that his top seven runners were valuable contributors this season, he said Schaefer and Nestor provided “outstanding leadership.”
“Of course they set a good example for how well they run,” he continued, “but we have some others girls who are up there pretty close to them as well. I think it’s just their overall positive attitude.”
The two have joined other runners to help establish a quality program at a fairly new school. Nestor took up cross country in her sophomore year after playing volleyball as a freshman.
“I’m quite grateful for that, obviously,” said Birdsell.
Even so, he added, “She will admit she wasn’t very good at all.”
What aided Nestor was her impressive work ethic – but it was a blessing and a curse in the beginning. She worked so hard during the winter – even running before or after basketball practice, which Birdsell did not know about – that she had stress fractures in both feet. They caused her to miss her sophomore track season.
“She has an interest and she’s got a tremendous work ethic,” said Birdsell. “She’s finally taking some days off and learning the importance of rest.”
Maize South’s league meet will be Saturday, Oct. 13, at Arkansas City. This time the Mavericks are members of Division II.
“We’re looking at Valley Center and Goddard Eisenhower, especially,” said Birdsell. “I know Andover has a good runner. But we don’t spend a lot of time studying what other teams have. We’re concerned (about) our own race, our own improvement, and if another team’s good enough to beat us, we just congratulate them and go on.
“One of the things we believe in is you can’t control what the other teams do,” he explained. “You only have control in what you do yourself.”
The 5A regional will take place Saturday, Oct. 20, at Lake Barton Golf Course in Great Bend. Birdsell predicted that Maize South and Valley Center would advance to the state meet, but he figured that would bring tough competition such as the Hornets, Bishop Carroll and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Birdsell recalled that the Mavericks did not expect to earn second place at last year’s 4A state meet. He thought they would finish as high as fourth, he said.
“We went up there and had a pretty good day,” he added, “and we hope to come close to that this year, understanding that 5A is quite a bit tougher than 4A – as it should be.”