LEROY — Coach Ross Vrieze seems to have decent numbers for both Pine River boys and girls cross country teams and could enjoy a strong season in the Highland Conference this fall.

The Bucks will have a different opener this season with the Ryan Shay Invitational at Central Lake this Saturday.

“We’re trying something new,” Vrieze said. “We’ll see some different people, try a different course and will see how it goes.”

Practices started last week. Pine River has 13 to 15 boys and about 13 girls. Senior Ben Rigling and Tony Moore lead the boys attack. Derek Hartline and Jordan Stone could also have strong seasons for the Bucks.

“We have some freshmen who could surprise us,” Vrieze said.

Senior Cheyanna Rizor is probably Pine River’s fastest returning girls runner.

“(Senior) Julia Lucas was pretty solid for us last year,” Vrieze said. “Holly Bailor is a returning sophomore. Alyssa Geer is a junior who hopes to do well.”

Olivia Thompson is a freshman runner who could also do well.

Vrieze is hoping his teams can bid for the top three in the Highland Conference.

“Beal City for the girls is returning a strong team,” Vrieze said. “For the boys, Evart and Beal City will be good.”

Like any team, the Bucks will have to get along without some top runners who graduated last year.

“We lost two crucial seniors for the boys and three seniors for the girls,” Vrieze said. “We have some incoming freshmen who can fill in the gaps for us.”

The Bucks will be at the Chippewa Hills Invitational next Tuesday. Home meets are Oct. 4 for the Cecil Burch Invitational and Oct. 14 for the Highland Conference jamboree.