ORION — Coming off a Three Rivers Conference championship last fall, the expectations are higher for the Orion girls' cross country squad as a new season approaches.
Five of the seven runners that participated in the Class 1A postseason for a Charger team that qualified for sectionals are back, a quintet led by Orion's lone senior, Brooke Norberg, and her junior teammate Maryn Bollinger, a first-time state qualifier last season.
"We definitely feel like we have a more mature team now, and we know what to expect coming in," said Bollinger. "We've set the bar, and now we're working hard to raise it. We're ready to push ourselves hard enough to achieve our goals."
High up on the Chargers' list of goals for 2019 is to repeat as TRAC champions, and take the next step in the postseason and earn the program's first trip to the state meet in Peoria.
"All of the girls that were a part of the roster towards the end of (last) year are excited about this," said Orion coach Morgan Leffel. "They not only want to get back to sectionals as a team, but they want to move past that. We've got a couple of new girls who really want to earn a varsity spot, and that creates a good atmosphere at practices.
"If you don't like to lose at practice, that turns into the same mindset at the meets."
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The duo of Bollinger and Norberg, both top 10 finishers at last year's Three Rivers meet, has emerged as the Chargers' leadership core, with each pushing the other in practice, and combining their strengths to set the pace for their younger teammates, a group that includes sophomore and top 15 conference finisher Hayley VanDuyne.
"We're the two that are setting the tone, setting the pace and making sure everyone is on top of everything and going full-out in our workouts," Norberg stated. "Maryn and I are like the same person; we think alike. We both have the same mindset: to keep pushing everyone and have a positive attitude."
For her part, Bollinger has experienced the benefits of having a veteran teammate to encourage and push her in the practice sessions and at the meets.
"Brooke is like an older sister to me," she said. "Having her to push me in practice, and me to push her, it's been awesome."
Having gotten a strong taste for winning last season, the Orion harriers realized the potential they possess, and want to make the most of it this season.
"We definitely have a lot of girls with potential," said Norberg. "They can make our team stronger, and give us a better opportunity to go down to Peoria. Knowing what it felt like last year and accomplishing a big goal of ours (winning the conference title), we want to do it again."