Upperclassmen lead the charge for the girls when it comes to the top cross country runners in Northeast Missouri and West-Central Illinois, but graduation took a heavy toll on the top boys runners. An infusion of top freshmen talent will make it fun to watch the area's upperclassmen try to hold rank while the youngsters begin their high school careers.
Here's a look, in alphabetical order, at some of the top runners entering the fall season.
Carrie Balzer, Jr., Liberty: After missing a trip to the IHSA state meet by one spot in her first cross country season in 2017, Balzer has her eyes on Peoria's Detweiller Park this fall. She was a strong presence in the top five at most meets last season.
Zarra Humphrey, Sr., West Hancock: Known more for her track accolades, Humphrey had a strong 2017 cross country campaign. At the state track meet in the spring, Humphrey led the Titans to a seventh-place finish in the 4x800 relay, then set a personal record and placed fifth in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:18.22.
Lydia Kurfman, Sr., QHS: Kurfman was the 2017 Girls All-Area Runner of the Year and looks to be the favorite to repeat that honor in 2018. She had a rough track season in the spring but finished strong. She will try to become the first QHS All-State runner in more than a decade.
Claudia Nichols, Jr., Hannibal: Nichols is a two time All-Area first team runner and looks to make it three in a row. Look for Nichols to continue to improve on her stellar first two seasons and push for a state qualification at the end of the fall.
Katelyn Robbins, Sr., Liberty: It's been a rough last year for the Robbins, with injuries hurting her late in the fall of 2017. She rebounded well and placed second indoor at the Illinois Top Times meet in the 3200-meter run. A medical issue at the IHSA state meet derailed her spring track season. She placed 14th in the 3200-meter run but was forced to withdraw from the 1600-meter final.
Noah Fleer, Sr., QHS: Fleer was a 2017 All-Area 1st team selection as the Blue Devils' top runner throughout 2017. Fleer and his fellow upperclassmen will look to end their careers with a strong showing in 2018.
Nathan Frazee, Jr., Clark County: Frazee's sequel to his strong freshman campaign was equally impressive. He placed 12th at the Missouri state meet and was a consistent threat to win every race he started in 2017.
Fiker Rosen, Fr., QHS: Rosen enters his first year at the high school level with a lengthy list of accomplishments on his resume. He was a two-time state champion at the IESA Class 2A level and broke the cross country state record in 2017 when he ran 9:43.3 to surpass Illinois legend Jorge Torres' mark in 1994 as the fastest ever at the state course. If you've never followed cross country, now may be the time to start. Rosen looks to be one of the best high school prospects this area has ever had.
Miles Sheppard, Fr., West Hancock: It's difficult to put a lot of expectations on someone who has not yet run a high school cross country race, but Sheppard has the talent to make his mark early and often based on his track credentials. He placed sixth in the 1,600-meter run at the IESA state championships, running 4:51. Look for him to continue to improve as he learns the ins and outs of racing on grass.
Cannen Wolf, Fr., Liberty: Wolf will lead an extremely young Eagles squad. As an eighth grader, Wolf placed eighth at the IESA Class 1A state cross country championships where he ran 11:05. He could find himself amongst the top locals regardless of age.