Most of Idaho’s top high school cross country teams and runners are many miles south of the Panhandle.
Still, North Idaho has its share of top runners and teams. This year will be no exception.
Here’s a look at the area’s teams:
Coeur d’Alene: Kinsey Gomez broke onto the scene in a thundering way two years ago as a freshman and finished her first season by shocking the 5A girls state field as she captured a state title.
She prepared just as hard, if not harder, last year, hoping for a repeat. But Liz Brandon of Eagle had other plans. Brandon knocked off Gomez, who finished second.
Gomez wants to get back to the top. She spent much of her summer preparing for a run at a state title.
“She’s looking awesome,” Coeur d’Alene coach Cathy Compton said.
Gomez opened with an impressive win at the Bonners Ferry Invite (Aug. 29). Compton has beefed up the Viks’ schedule to give Gomez all the competition she can get in preparation for state.
Gomez is joined by returning lettermen Dayna Drager, Amanda Buttrey, Melissa Bondra and Casey Hinders, all seniors, and sophomore Lizzie Armon and junior Sydney BonKienst.
Others who will be battling for spots are senior Jessie Shocklee, freshman Sarah Stone, junior Erica Nichols, sophomore Brianna Ball and freshmen Corrina Nichols and Lyndsey Myers.
Sophomore Cody Curtis leads a deep boys roster. Curtis finished 18th at state last year.
He’s joined by returners Alex Hendricks, Andrew Stone and Dylan Poorboy, all seniors, junior David Norris and sophomores Ben Wooley and Kyle Cummings.
Freshman Michael Dunton earned a varsity spot after the first meet, Compton said. She has a competitive junior varsity group that will push the older boys.
“We have built-in competition that will be there all season,” Compton said.
Lake City: Just as Gomez is hungry to return to the top, senior C.J. Helbling would like to find out what the view at the top looks like. Runner-up a year ago, Helbling is chasing nothing less than a state title in his final season.
Helbling came into the season as healthy as he’s ever been. He took the track season off last spring after having surgery on a hip.
“He’s looking really good,” LC coach Justin Taylor said.
The Timberwolf boys lack depth this season. Returners who join Helbling are juniors Dan Scott, Nick Titus, Taylor Ward and Ben Deremiah and senior Greg Drapeau.
“We’ve got a lot of growth to do,” Taylor said. “I see it as a building year.”
The LC girls will be led by senior Rhianna Grossman, who took sixth at state last year.
“She had a big breakthrough meet when it counted,” Taylor said of state. “She will be one of the top contenders in state.”
Two other seniors return: Emily Wyatt and Ashley Eachon. Already pushing LC’s pack is freshman Leanne Asper.
Where LC must make up some ground is with its fourth through seventh runners, Taylor said.
Post Falls: It could be a lean year for the Trojans.
Still, coach Brian Trefry is optimistic.
“The kids are extremely hard-working,” Trefry said. “It’s probably one of the hardest-working groups, top to bottom, that we’ve had. They’re pushing themselves to be as competitive as possible.”
In the boys, Post Falls returns seniors Matt Bartlett and Austin Briggs and junior Sean Salmon. Junior Keaton Trom is a transfer from Valley Christian.
In the girls, returners include juniors Leticia Bloom and Brianna Casilleja and sophomores Brianna Salmon and Ivory Pellerin. First-time runners are senior Kadie Booth and junior Josie Tennison.
Lakeland: In the boys, the Hawks return sophomores Blake Engle, Charles Johnson, Ian MacArthur, Hunter Ellis, Bryce Woepner and Robbie McMillian, senior Zachary Rec and juniors Evan Baumer and Logan Kunde.
In the girls, juniors Jenna Davis, Kaitlin Kimberling and Latecia Howell, sophomore McKenna Young and senior Brooke Reese return.
The boys hope to challenge for a state berth.
Sandpoint: Five boys return with state experience.
They are seniors Tim Householter and Galen MacDonald and juniors Danny Pfeifer, Mason Foster and Evan Rains. Pfeifer placed 40th at state last year.
Others expected to challenge for varsity spots are seniors David Marienau and Mikka Nostdahl, junior Jimmy Matthews and freshman Alex Charvoz.
“We have 12 boys who are running really tight and strong,” coach Matt Brass said.
In the girls, junior Molly Burgstahler returns with the most experience. Joining her with hopes of making an impact are seniors Shanysa Reid, Lindsey Anderson, Susan Kovalchuk, sophomore Rebecca Cloud and freshman Miranda Ewing.
Timberlake: Four of seven boys return off the Tigers’ state-qualifying team from last year.
Seniors Ryan Sacksteder and Brian Tucker finished 14th and 16th respectively at state and return with hopes of cracking the top 10.
Others who hope to have big roles on the team are seniors Devin Olphie, Gaelen Guzman and Ty Moreland and junior Dylan Hughes.
Senior Alex Turbin leads a deep girls team. Turbin took 16th at state last year.
Turbin is joined by state qualifiers Brooke Nowlan, Dominique Vanderwilt and Blaire Nowlan, all sophomores, and junior Kelsey McCaslin.
Freshman Ashly George is running in the middle of the pack.
The girls were ranked fourth in the preseason poll.
“It’s still early and I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them,” coach Shawn Lawler said. “Our pack time for our first five runners is less than two minutes and that makes me pretty happy.”
Lawler said his boys are working on chemistry.
“I think that’s what is really going to help us,” he said.
Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy: Senior Rory Ruskovich returns after missing last year because of a bout with mononucleosis.
“He’s in amazing shape,” coach Lewis Watkins said. “He’s running as well as any of our top runners.”
Ruskovich took ninth at state as a sophomore.
He will team with returners Brendan Foster and Cameron Crandall, both seniors. Others who are vying for spots are senior Daniel Pinkerton and sophomore Jake Shapiro. After that the Panthers are relatively young.
On the girls side, Watkins has a lot of experience to work with. Junior Sadie Iott and senior Alyssa Kimm were state placers a year ago. Iott took 17th and Kimm was 28th.
The rest of the team returns intact led by juniors Katie Livingston, Claire Johnson, Paige Kelly and Sam Brandvein.
“The goal of both teams is to improve on what we did in 2007 at state,” Watkins said.
Both teams placed third at state that year.