HALSTEAD — With nine boys and four girls returning, including five state qualifiers back, the Halstead High School cross country team is again expecting big things.

Curtis Vermillion begins his 31st season as the Dragons coach. He is assisted by Donovan Regehr, in his 17th season.

The Halstead boys were first in the Central Kansas League and first in the Class 3A regionals last season.

In an expanded and loaded state field, the Dragon boys finished fourth, missing a plaque by one point against league rival Smoky Valley.

The Halstead girls were third in the CKL last season and fourth in the regionals, missing state by one place and 20 points.

Returning state qualifiers for the boys include junior Hayden Davis, who placed 44th; senior Isaac Radke, who placed 58th; senior Dawson Driskill, who placed 62nd; and senior Gage Carr, who didn’t finish.

Other returning letterwinners include junior Blake Bush, junior Max Cubbage, senior Anthony Floro, junior Thomas Porch and sophomore Austin Radke.

Top newcomers include junior Michal Engebretsen; and freshmen Aiden Allmon, Spencer Johnson, Nickolas Mendez and Andrew Thompson.

“The boys’ team returns 9 runners from last year; four of which ran varsity at the state meet,” Vermillion said. “The main goal this squad is focusing on, is to return to the state meet and try to compete for a state championship. The team placed 4th at state last year, but lost three of the top seven runners (Andrew O’Brien, R.J. Stovall, and Josh Talbott) to graduation. Most of the returners have been running during the summer, and seem poised to step up and accept the challenge. We have a good group of newcomers to the squad, who will provide depth and have some running experience. The entire group has a great work ethic, and is excited about the season. Last season we had some injury issues, and hope everyone can stay healthy, get better each week, and run with a purpose. The team has tasted success, wants to continue to excel, and leave their own positive mark on the program. We will need people to step up to accomplish those goals.”

Returning from state from last year for the girls is junior Parker Schroeder, who finished 38th.

Other returning letterwinners include senior Holli Black, junior Katelyn Drake and sophomore Leah Weber.

A top newcomer is freshman Grace Lee.

“The girls’ team returns four runners from last year; with one state meet qualifier in Parker Schroeder,” Vermillion said. “We lost two quality girls to graduation, and must have our one newcomer step up and run varsity. We want to improve daily, and hope to stay healthy and allow ourselves to run as a full team all season The main goal this squad has set is to return to the state meet. We lack depth, but have a great five girls to work with.”