REED CITY — Reed City cross country coaches Rich and Susan Saladin are excited with the higher numbers they’re seeing with their program in the second year of coaching.

“We had a small group of runners for both boys and girls in 2016,” Rich Saladin said. “We never had enough runners for either group to score as a team but we saw consistent improvement across the board for all runners. We had a very large number of freshmen running for both teams.

“One of our top highlights for 2016 was our regional performance as all four boys achieved a personal record with Brandon Wirth and Calvin Rohde both breaking 18 minutes and Noah Blythe breaking 19 minutes. Freshmen girls Leigha Johnson and Mackenzie Vandawater were also strong runners with consistent improvement. We had great team bonding and all of the younger runners are returning for 2017.”

Reed City only had one senior on its team from last year, Joelynn Gamble-Brown.

“She had a great work ethic and led by example,” Saladin said. “Unfortunately, she hurt her knee early in the season and was not able to compete for most of the year. She still came to events and supported and cheered for her teammates, a great example for the younger runners.”

Junior Brandon Wirth and sophomore Calvin Rohde will be the team’s lead runners this year.

“Brandon was just short of all-conference last year and also finished 19th at regionals,”  Saladin said. “He’s worked very hard over the summer. He dual sported last year with soccer and is focusing solely on cross country this year. We are shooting for all-conference and qualifying for the state finals (top 15 at regionals). Calvin was a top-25 conference runner last year and finished 22nd at regionals. He’s put in a lot of miles this summer including completing a half-marathon. He will be shoulder-to-shoulder with Brandon in competing for both all-conference and regional medalist.”

Sophomores Noah Blythe, Heaven Hurley, Jared Karns and Jackie Chan, along with first-time runner Ryan Simmons, will allow Reed City to score as a team this year.

The girls have returning sophomores Vandawater and Johnson, who will bring experience and strong work ethic to this year’s squad.

“Senior Olivia Thompson transferred to Reed City from Pine River where she was their best runner in 2016,” Rich Saladin said. “Olivia is a natural leader and is a great addition to our young squad. She finished 29th at regionals last year and she has worked hard over the summer with a goal to be a state qualifier this year. Taylor Harrison (sophomore) is a first-year runner that will be a great addition. She is a natural athlete with a great work ethic. She will also work toward a top 15 finish at regionals. We have another strong looking group of freshmen in Abby Kiaunis, Abbie Johnson, Brooke Miller, Hannah Diehl and Jaz Marsh, along with an experienced runner in junior Hailey Duchene.

“In 2016, we did not have enough runners to score as a team. It’s exciting to see the new additions to both boys and girls and the opportunity to compete as a team as well as individually. I expect them to push each other to work hard and expect to see improvement throughout the season.”

Rich Saladin likes his team’s unity.

“It’s a great group of kids that enjoy being together and don’t back down from a hard workout,” he said. “They’ll enjoy each other’s successes and they’ll support each other as we try to achieve both individual and team goals. We are a very young team. We have some strong leaders in junior Brandon Wirth and senior Olivia Thompson that will help guide the group along. Our goal is to improve from day one and that will have to keep being reiterated when there are setbacks.”

The Coyotes compete in the Central State Activities Association Gold Division. The season starts on Aug. 22 at the Chippewa Hills Invitational.

“We have a very strong conference,” Rich Saladin said. “Fremont’s boys team was state runner-up in Division 2 last year. They will lose four of their top five runners from last year but Cliff Somers has an incredible program over there and I expect them to be close to the top again. Tri County also lost three of their top runners but have a great junior class coming back.

For the girls, I expect Chip Hills, Big Rapids and Fremont to be the leaders – probably giving the edge to Chip Hills with all of their top runners coming back. For both boys and girls, we’ll have some individuals compete for all-conference, but as a team, we just don’t have the depth yet to push for a conference title.

“Our goal is to improve over last year and throughout the season. We’re excited to race this year at a couple of premier events including the Pete Moss Invite up in Benzie and the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing. It will be a chance for our team to see and compete against some of the state’s best. We are building a program, but we have some strong runners. We are looking forward to getting the season started.”