Niles cross country teams begin their seasons today in the Viking Stampede

Published 11:24 pm Saturday, August 21, 2004

By By ADAM FISHER / Niles Daily Star
Many Niles' teams have benefited this year from the high school's larger than normal incoming freshman class. The Vikings cross country teams, however, aren't among the sports loaded with ninth graders.
Instead, coach Rick Lott's boys' team starts the season with just seven runners, two less than last year's squad, which finished with seven.
Both the boys and girls begin their seasons today at the Viking Stampede, a home meet run at the Southwestern Michigan College course.
Of this year's seven, one is a freshman and one has never run cross country before, leaving his team somewhat inexperienced.
Girls' coach Dan VandenHeede has four runners returning, two sophomores and two juniors. But the returners aren't seasoned veterans by any means - last year was the first year running cross country for each.
Niles lost four girls to graduation last year and has no one on the team with more than a year of experience. VandenHeede said having a young team both has positives and negatives.
While the Viking boys may not have a big team, they do have two seniors returning in Austin Neilson and Logan Todd. Lott said his two veterans should battle all year for the title of top Niles runner.
Niles also has Steve Scally returning, who Lott said will be the work horse of this year's team.
Today's Viking Stampede includes 18 schools, five from Indiana. Lott said medals will be awarded to the top 10 runners in each grade for both boys and girls. Team trophies will also be awarded.
Lott said the meet will be a good measuring stick to see where his team is at and where it needs improvement before it begins conference competition.
VandenHeede also said the Viking Stampede will give him a chance to judge his team.
Lott said his team's goal this season is to win the division. The Vikings placed second last year and fifth in conference. He said the SMAC has some good runners this year, but he thinks his team has the ability to win it.
VandenHeede said he wants to see what his girls do this weekend before creating goals, but he does have one in mind already.
One good thing about having a young team, VandenHeede said, is that his runners are almost certain to be better at the end of the year than the beginning.