With the beginning of the cross country season looming, the North Putnam team is ready to hit the ground running.
The Cougars boast a full girls squad, but are struggling to find enough boys to fill the roster. Head coach Kevin Lutes is hoping the squad can pick up a few more members as school has begun.
"I've got eight that are consistently showing up for practice and another couple that I know that are going," Lutes said. "We're hoping that we pick up three, four, five after school starts, and so around 15 at best.
"We've got a full girls team, with some to spare, and they are pushing to find out where places are going to be," Lutes said. "Sometimes with girls, they're a little tentative and they'll just get in one place and stay that way the rest of the year. This year our girls are not doing that. They're competing in practice, which makes everybody better and I'm happy to see that."
North Putnam has been training for the past few months and Lutes likes the effort he's seen out of his team.
"We've actually been having optional conditioning, having kids come and run since early in June," he explained. "With them showing up and running every other day or so is very promising because that seems to be the biggest conflict with runners is just getting them to run when I'm not here watching them. So that's promising. I'm happy so far with where we're at this season. Hopefully we'll just build on that through the end of the season and see where we are."
The only area of concern for Lutes is his team's consistency in their practice. He would like to see them hitting their strides, but has been impressed with their progress thus far. He wants then to continue working on running together and pushing each other.
Lutes has a couple runners that have been impressive so far. With their effort, he hopes the squad will use them as an example and strive to get better.
"Right now we have two senior boys, Kenny Quisenberry and Kasey McLaughlin, that have been at it the last three years," Lutes said. "I think if they push each other to train, which is hard because right now we don't have a complete boys team. I just told them the main thing is to keep pushing each other in practice and getting out there and I think that by the end of the season, they can be in competition to get out of sectional if they keep running on their own."
For the girls, it's been Paxton Stephenson who is leading the way. Lutes said she's a little bit ahead of the others. He commented on her successful track season and since this is her first year in cross country, it's been exciting to see her develop as a runner.
Lutes expressed the excitement his team has as the season nears. He mentioned that the team was pondering whether to compete in the Hokum Karem to begin its season and it was McLaughlin that gave him the push.
"My senior McLaughlin came up and said, "We've got to run this, it's my senior year,' and he just wants to compete and find out where he is," he said.
Lutes mentioned that a runner joined the squad just before school began and how the team has welcomed his with open arms, something that exemplifies what makes his team special.
"He hadn't run a lot over the summer, but the rest of the team has taken him under their wing and are encouraging him," Lutes commented. "That's another thing that I like about the team is that they are really encouraging to each other. They stay through workouts, cheering each other on. It's just a great group of kids, not only athletically but academically. The majority is in the top 10 percent of their class. They're just a good group of kids."
When asked about what the season had in store for the Cougars, Lutes said they are focusing on themselves and that's all they can do. He likes their desire and willingness to learn and believes that will carry them a long way this season.
"I know that I'm comfortable with where we are at this point in the season," he said. "I think we have a lot of work to do and I tell the kids that and they're not comfortable running where they are now, they want to get better. We're just trying not to compare ourselves with other teams, because we don't have the same background and things like that. They're just trying to runner better, the ones that are returning, than what they did last year. For the rest of them, they're just trying to find out what cross country is all about, which is exciting to see too."
North Putnam starts their season in the Hokum Karem in Danville at 9 a.m. Saturday.