QUINCY -- Fiker Rosen burst onto the scene with a fantastic freshman campaign for the Quincy High School boys cross country team, but it was the end of the season that stuck with him.
After breezing through the first two rounds of the postseason with a second-place finish in the regional meet and a fifth-place showing in sectionals, Rosen crossed the line in 124th place at the state meet with a time of 15 minutes, 31.76 seconds.
"Last year, my best time was a 15:15, so my state time was 15 seconds behind," Rosen said. "I wasn't very happy with that, but it motivated me to run even faster and better this year."
Rosen enters his sophomore season with a renewed energy and desire to succeed, and Blue Devils coach Matt McClelland said that desire started shortly after the state meet.
"We actually talked about that after the season, him and I actually sat down in December right before Christmas," McClelland said. "We sat down, we talked about it, he talked about some mistakes he made during the race."
It was no surprise Rosen saw so much success his freshman year. He was a known commodity from his strong showings in junior high, but he said running in high school was still an adjustment.
Now that he has been through a full year running at this level, however, he is ready to up his game.
"I learned where I made my mistakes in my freshman year, now my sophomore year I am focusing on getting better and being healthy all season," Rosen said. "I know what this is like, so this year I am trying to do everything I can to be the top runner in Illinois."
That's not just lip service, either. At least his coach doesn't think so.
"He trains very hard, he takes it very serious, he does all the right things, so I think for him it's just a mental thing," McClelland said. "If he can get in the right frame of mind when it comes to race time, which he does most of the time, he is able to really start to hammer down on some people.
"Looking at the season ahead, he's going to win a lot of really good races or he will be right up in the front pack in a lot of those big meets we go to. I don't think it's going to be any different this year for him, he will be right up there."
Rosen might be the top name for the Blue Devils, but he isn't the only one with high aspirations. McClelland said the pool of talent is strong, and the next name on that list is another sophomore in Ayden Triplett.
"He's one of those guys that is really solid all the time. That's what you need on the team. You need those guys who don't fluke out, who don't have a bad race necessarily," McClelland said. "He's somebody that we were able to count on all season last year. I think we will do the same thing with him this year. He's going to be somebody who we will be able to see up towards the front all the time for the team."
There's a few new faces who are looking to contribute as well, one of which made the switch from soccer to cross country this season.
"Devin Hermsmeier is a junior, he's never run cross country before, he's a soccer player who transitioned to cross country this year and he's super strong," McClelland said. "He's got awesome endurance, I think he's going to be a main player for our team right off the bat."
Cross country is often an individual-driven sport, but Rosen said he wants more than just individual success out of this season.
"I'm always on my team trying to help everybody and always looking to win as a team, not just individually," he said. "I would prefer going to state as a team, not just as an individual. As a team is better, I'm looking for our team to be better this year."
The QHS boys enter the season without a single senior, meaning the core of what they build this year will be together for at least one more season.
"We are going to have some humbling moments, I think," McClelland said. "We are going to go to meets and be treated by underclassmen, we are going to go to meets and have growing pains but I also think we are going to learn from that. Towards the end of the season we are going to be clicking on all cylinders, and next year is going to be even better."
Schuering takes baton from Kurfman
The QHS girls enter the 2019 season without the steady presence of three-time state qualifier Lydia Kurfman, who graduated last May.
"Lydia was somebody that was good for us all the way through high school. She was a state qualifier as a sophomore, she was somebody who we could just count on," McClelland said. "She was always there, she was always at the front of every single meet that we ever ran, and she won most of them. She was a really big player."
While Kurfman is no longer with the team, McClelland said her presence can still be felt from sophomore Anna Schuering, who was essentially Kurfman's apprentice as a freshman.
"Looking at how intense she took everything and how hard she trained all fall last year, trying to model everything Lydia did, she did a great job with that," McClelland said. "She watched Lydia like a hawk, anything that Lydia did Anna would try to do, too. Now, it's everybody watching Anna and everybody wants to do what Anna is doing. That's awesome because we are able to carry that on."
Schuering said getting a year of experience from someone who finished as high as 31st in the state meet helped her grow leaps and bounds.
"She is definitely a huge inspiration to me and someone who really taught me how to be a good runner. I definitely use her as an example," Schuering said. "I know that I have three years left, which is a lot of time to improve, but I also know that I don't want to waste my time. I want to be to other girls what Lydia was to me."
Schuering finished 25th in the regional meet as a freshman, something she honestly didn't expect.
"Last year was a year of trying to figure things out, but this year I'm coming in with new feet," she said. "I have different racing strategies, and last year was definitely more than I would have expected out of my freshman year. Coming into this year, I want even more than what I had last year."
It didn't even take a full year to see her potential improve. Schuering had a great spring for the QHS track team, winning the 800-meter run and taking second in the 1,600 in the Western Big Six Conference track meet.
"She is somebody who automatically fits into that talk for the distance runner side of being one of the top girls," McClelland said. "I think with her strength and her endurance, what she was able to build over the summer and what she built all last years as a freshman, I think that translates into being in the top pack of the Western Big Six for cross country too."
Schuering is hoping some of that magic from the track season translates to cross country.
"I want that same feeling that I had in track in this cross country season," she said.
Pushing Schuering will be a group of solid runners, some McClelland thinks have a chance to overtake her.
"Behind Anna we have Jade Schneider, who is a junior but in her second year with us," he said. "Alex Meyers is a freshman, but I think she is going to come in and be a main player at the top of our team, and if you're at the top of our team that means you'll probably be one of the tops in the conference as well."
Like the boys team, there is a lot of youth featured on the girls side. So McClelland knows what they build this year will only make them stronger down the road.
"We are still growing, and we have some studs in the junior high program that could challenge our top girls at the high school level as well," he said. "We have one girl who is a senior in Sophie Shackelton, but other than that, we keep everybody together on both the boys and the girls side. The athletes coming up next year are only going to help and we are going to be a year better."