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Titan Cross Country team preps for 2023 season -First meet scheduled for Aug. 25 in Beresford

As the sun sets on summer and the start of the school year is here another season of Tea Area High School cross country is on the horizon. Head Coach Ryan Decker, with over a decade of coaching experience under his belt, is looking forward to leading his team to new heights.

Decker enters is 12th season as head coach and has been involved in coaching track and field and cross country in some form for the past 20 years. He has a Level 0 and Level 1 certification from USA Track & Field (USATF) for coaching track and field/XC and also a Level 2 certification from USATF in Youth Coaching.

“Prior to coming to Tea 16 years ago, I helped with the track program at both Henry High School and Lincoln (NE) Christian Middle School,” said Decker.

Decker will be assisted once again this year by Laura Berg, who begins her sixth season as assistant coach. They welcome first time assist, Bradie Donelan this season as well.

Last year the Titans had three athletes qualify for the State Meet and a earned victory in a team meet on the Varsity Girls side.

Despite losing Lydia Decker, Brailey Groeneveld, Aiden Pearson, and Averi Johannson, to graduation the team returns key athletes: Jaycie Babb - a two-time State Medal Winner and 2022 State qualifier, Grace Bialas - a 2022 State qualifier, Haley Korver, Holden Jelen, Jack Campbell, Reid Hammerquist - a 2022 State qualifer, Peyton Sieber, and Alex Kayser.

Babb and Bilas are the two fastest runners in school history. Combine that with Brooklyn Rieners who has the ninth best time in school history and Korver who is a three time state qualifier, the Titan girls are poised for success. They also will feature Meredith Decker, a two-year varsity competition, along with Abbie Hilleson who ran the third fastest 4K in school history last year and Logan Castle who ran the sixth fastest 4K.

For the boys, Jelen has State Meet experience and has been working hard in the off season to come in at top shape. Sieber and Kayser also had strong track seasons for the Titans and they will look to be medal threats this year. Campbell and Hammerquist both have State Meet experience as well and put in strong off season preparation. Freshman Tate VanLaecken finished in the top 30 of Regions last year as an eighth grader along with Jonah Klemisch and Jacob DeYoung who were the top JV runners from last season.

Decker is hopeful that these returning athletes, along with a roster of talented runners, will be the recipe for a very successful season.

“I think that we might have the strongest overall program we have ever had this season. We bring back five of our Varsity runners on the girls’ side, and we had three girls (Abby Hilleson, Logan Castle, Miah Thorstenson) run top ten JV times last season that we will count on to push our girls and make us a strong team,” said Decker. “On the boys side, we bring back all six varsity runners and also have some exciting JV boys that we will count on to push their teammates and give a competitive team. I think it is the depth of race experience we have across the board that will be our biggest strength.”

While Coach Decker has high hopes for his team, he acknowledges the challenges that come with any new season.

“I think the biggest question mark for us is going to be which of our young runners will step up to fill open spots and challenge our older athletes. This is our last season of A Competition, so our goal is to qualify both our boys’ and girls’ teams, which is something we haven’t achieved yet,” said Decker. “Competing in a very strong conference and region will be a challenge and I am excited to see how the athletes respond.”

Coach Decker looks for Sioux Falls Christian, Lennox, and Vermillion to be the strong teams in the Conference along with Sioux Valley at Regions.

“We finished fourth in the Region girls last year behind SFC, Sioux Valley, and West Central,” said Decker.

The Titans kick off their season on Friday, Aug. 25 with a meet at Beresford.

“This is a great early meet with strong competition,” said Decker. “We have a lot of strong young runners, so we expect that we should be able to be competitive in the conference and region. Our athletes have put in more work this off-season than ever before and we are excited to see how that pays off for us.”

The 2023-24 cross country team roster includes the following athletes: Titan Boys: Sixth graders—Phoenix Bak, Reed Cerny, Simon Jelen, Jameson Lee, Easton Meier, Noah Sayler, Caden Schuster, Jace Ullom, and Grant Woodis. Seventh graders—Grant Curtis, Ryker Kubik, Ayden Peterson, and Cooper Thompson. Eighth graders—Max Bengford, Dawson Lowery, and Kadin Zolnowsky. Freshman—Riley Clark, Jaxon Johanneson, Malachi Kaiser, Jonah Klemisch, Noah Korver, Reid Hammerquist, and Tate VanLaecken. Sophomores—Jack Campbell and Jacob DeYoung. Seniors—Holden Jelen, Alex Kayser, and Peyton Sieber. Titan Girls: Sixth graders—Ally Babb, Taylor Davis, Evelyn DeGeest, Emma Hilleson, Ella Korver, Janessa Kuipers, McKinnley Meyer, Reagan Rand, and Harper Thompson. Seventh graders—Mikayla Berg, Taylor Boehnke, Selina Bolte, Grace Chapman, Gretchen Curtis, Natalie Hyronimus, Ella Kamps, Kelsey Kramer, Sophie Sherwood, Emerson Smolik, Lola Underberg, and Jayna VanLaecken. Eighth graders: Grace Bialas, Logan Castle, Daphne Decker, Kinsley Gass, Harper Heier, Abby Hilleson, Rachel Row, and Bethlehym Swanson. Freshman: Erica Boterman, Breslin Rand, and Miah Thorstenson. Sophomores: Jaycie Babb, Meredith Decker, Gracie Kramer, Kiley Pendergast, and Brooklyn Reiners. Seniors: Haley Korver, Brooklyn Korver, and Scarlett Taylor. Managers include Shelbi Goehring and Aubrey Kenyon.

The Titan cross country team put in a strong off-season, meeting twice a week for team runs, hosting the Second Youth XC Meet, and completing the first “Go The Distance” Challenge. Returning athletes could sign up to participate in the challenge. Athletes were divided up into teams and tracked their mileage each week. First Challenge Team winners were the Gold Getters (Captain Jaycie Babb, Jack Campbell, Erica Boterman, Jacob DeYoung, Emerson Smolik, and Kinsley Gass), who won by logging 1097 miles, narrowly beating out our runner-ups, the Future Olympians of Society (Captain Holden Jelen, Miah Thorstenson, Noah Korver, Breslyn Rand, Brooklyn Reiners, and Lola Underberg) who logged 1059 miles.


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