The cross-country culture has yet to take hold at Thunder Basin High School, but head coach Terri Hinkel is trying to change that.

She has the best numbers in the program’s short history, but thinks it may take time for those to make a big difference. The Bolts have seven meets to make progress before the postseason and both teams face challenges.

Coach’s expectations

“You’re only as good as your fifth runner” is an old saying in the sport that will always hold true. It’s also one of the largest issues for the TBHS girls team this year.

“Right now I see three good runners. I need to get four and five,” Hinkel said.

Improving on last year’s eighth-place finish at state will depend on whether any of Hinkel’s unproven runners step up before the postseason.

She thinks someone will emerge and fill the fourth spot, but isn’t sure where her No. 5 runner is going to come from. That uncertainty makes it almost impossible to guess where the Bolts may finish this season.

On the boys side, there are five runners all within a minute of each other. The only problem is that their results at the beginning of the year time trials will be lucky to hold up at the state level.

Hinkel said that to place at state, runners on the boys side will need to be pushing 16 minutes — a shade over a 5-minute mile split. The top result at the time trials was 12 minutes, 35 seconds, which is more than a 6-minute pace.

The goal for the boys team is just to improve a little from last year’s ninth place at state. But Hinkel said her boys are going to have to push themselves and get tougher to do that.

Hinkel foresees Laramie High School, which won six straight titles from 2012-2017, as a front-runner on the boys side. There are a lot of talented teams, which has made it hard for the Bolts to establish themselves.

Bright young talent

The most promising aspect for the Thunder Basin cross-country program is its youth. There are nine freshmen and two sophomore girls, while the boys team has five freshmen and four sophomores.

Having so many young runners has Hinkel excited for the future, but she has to make sure they last with the program. She said that if you push underclassmen too hard too early, a common outcome is turning them against the sport.

“I don’t want to burn my freshmen out right now, just kind of get them in shape and then start pushing them.”

The girls team already has two underclassmen who have established themselves as varsity talents. Sophomore Maddison Lubben had the second fastest finish at the time trials, a 14:29, while freshman Brooke Dunham took third at 14:45.

Top runners

The No. 1 runner on the girls team heading into the season will be Meghan Hanson, who was the first girl to finish the time trials in 14 minutes, 14 seconds.

After finishing 16th at state last year, Hanson’s goal this season is to break into the top 10. That would qualify her for the regional Nike Cross regional meet in Idaho.

Zach Mansheim was the top finisher at the time trials, clocking in at 12:35 to claim the No. 1 spot on the boys team. The junior finished 46th at state last year and is shooting for a top-30 finish this season.

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