KNOXVILLE — The Knoxville cross country team will be led by their state qualifying duo as the boys and girls prepare for potentially strong seasons.

Two-time state qualifier Norah Pearson returns to lead the girls that lose three seniors but return seven letter winners. Pearson took fourth at the state qualifying meet before heading to Fort Dodge where she finished just outside of the medalling in 17th at 19:49.

Pearson will serve as one of the captains along with Dani Johnston and Olivia Maasdam who head coach Mikayla Splavec has praised for how they have been motivating the team of 17 girls in practice.

Keep an eye on freshman Janie Maasdam as someone who could show well along with those captains this season.

On the boys side, 2020 state qualifier Seth Walraven returns for Michael Splavec and the Panthers. Walraven squeaked in at 14th in the qualifying meet to earn his bid for state. At Fort Dodge, he would finish 77th with a time of 17:42.

The Knoxville boys didn’t have any seniors last year and they return the likes of Max Purvis, Peter Picard, Joey Hembrook, Kaden McGill, John Buttell and Andrew Jackson while newcomers Ezra Schmidt and Ethan Russell could work themselves into the mix.

Knoxville is fielding a roster of 11 seniors that have spent a lot of time on 5k courses and should provide a lot of experience.

“They know what it takes to be great and will continue to lead our young runners,” Michael Splavec said of his seniors. “We don't have a lot of experience running to our top potential in big, high quality meets. We are hoping to change that by giving our top athletes more opportunities to run against top competition.”

With that much experience returning, hopes are high for the Panthers entering the 2021 season.

“We should have a good season this year,” Splavec said. “Our boys are poised to win a conference title and have been talking about it all offseason. We also have great opportunities to qualify not just one, but possibly a couple runners to the State Meet.”

Colin Peters can be reached at 641-672-2581, by email at cpeters@oskyherald.com or on Twitter @ColinPetersOH.

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