QUINCY -- At the end of last season, Quincy Notre Dame cross country coach Kristin Sturhahn announced she would be stepping down to look after her family.
A couple months later when Raiders athletic director Bill Connell reached out about possibly rejoining the team after a suitable replacement hadn't been found, Sturhahn decided she could still take care of both her families, the one at home and the one on the course.
"When I announced I was stepping down to the team, it was a very tough decision," Sturhahn said. "I sat down with my husband and talked things through, and I decided to do Coach Connell a favor and help them one more year to get through this season. We're going to make it the best we can."
Knowing this will be her final season at the helm, Sturhahn said there has been a definite set of goals for both the boys and girls teams, and the main one is to send someone to state for the first time since Zach Haley went for the boys in 2017.
"It's not to just come out here to run and have fun," she said. "They are here for that side of being competitive and winning."
QND has a few prospects capable of accomplishing that goal. On the boys side, the Raiders will be replacing six of their seven varsity runners, but the lone returner -- senior Sam Schlegl -- is coming off a good junior campaign with his eyes on a great finish.
"I want to break my record, my goal is to get under 17 (minutes) and just break it," he said.
Schlegl has a tough job filling the leadership role of the graduated runners, but he said the lessons he learned from them will endure.
"It's a big shoe to fill. They really kept me on point," he said. "I really liked their leadership skills, and they always pushed me hard. I just have to do the same for the younger kids and hope they follow my work ethic."
Sturhahn has full belief in Schlegl's ability to not just lead, but succeed individually.
"Sam is our top runner, you tell him to do something in a race and he does it," she said. "He has no regrets. He looks very promising this year. I know he is very dedicated and is a very promising runner."
With three years of high school cross country under his belt, Schlegl said he knows exactly how to improve his approach and get the best out of his races.
"I always start out too fast because that's just kind of how you are," he said. "I always think, ‘I want to win,' but then on mile two I think, ‘Well, I'm tired.'"
As for the group pushing Schlegl, Sturhahn said it might be an inexperienced bunch but a talented one.
"We have a lot of the guys stepping up. When it comes to the postseason, some of the guys are wanting it so that's a position they are going to drive for," she said. "Even with the summer practices I've seen several guys step up to that plate."
That drive is apparent with how the boys entered the first week of practice.
"This summer was all about building base, and now we are starting to work on our speed continuing with our base," Sturhahn said. "Once we hit every week with our speed workouts, they are going to be much quicker."
On the girls side, QND is replacing its top two regional placers in Ella Borrowman and Lindsey Ayo, but it brings back a strong core of girls led by incoming sophomore Teresa Drotar, who was 20th in regionals a year ago.
There's also a new face that will add some strength to top of that lineup.
"One of our freshmen, Reese Terstriep, she looks very promising," Sturhahn said. "If we could just keep everybody healthy -- and that was one of our downfalls last year was a couple of them got injured -- if we can keep everybody healthy and mentally strong, then we are going to look very good."
Having six or seven girls who are all fighting for a counting score on the varsity team is a boon that Sturhahn said only makes everyone better.
"You can see the competitiveness in everybody," she said. "With those girls, the top five score in a meet and they want to be one of those that count, for sure."
A year ago, the Raider girls placed fourth in the regional meet but failed to move anyone on from sectionals. The QND girls haven't qualified anyone to state since Amanda Darnell in 2008.
They don't want that to be the case this season.
"As a team. they are wanting to place better in regionals but their end goal is to get to state," she said. "That's everybody's dream, we have to keep doing what we've been doing."
In her final year with the team, Sturhahn is obviously wanting to go out with a bang, but she said there is success outside of walking away with a state qualification.
"I want the best for everybody. We are all very close as a family and I just want to see each individual runner do their best," she said. "At every practice I always ask them, ‘Just give me your best.' and as long as I am getting their best, that's all I can ask for."