State is no longer the goal — it’s the expectation.

With the 2014 inaugural state meet appearance long behind it, the Seymour girls cross-country team’s appetite for success has grown.

“We just want to continue to improve on our success from last year,” Owls coach Spencer Sunbury said. “It was exciting for us that we finally made it to state, but it’s just the tip of what we can achieve here. We can’t just be happy that we made it last year, and I think the returning girls know they can do more. I think we can be a top-15 team.”

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While the team lost four seniors to graduation, two of whom ran at state, it reloaded with young runners who are expected to put up big times.

“Out of our freshman group, we have Ashton Chase and Brett Kleber coming up from the middle school,” Sunbury said. “They will be up there competing with the top 12 at least, if not the top seven. Ashton will be up there running with the top three, and Brett will be in the five to seven spot, from what I can tell at this point.”

At state, the Owls placed 19th with 442 points, led by a 45th-place finish by incoming sophomore Emma Brock.

Sunbury said he expects Chase to compete with Brock this season for the top spot and that Chase has a handful of middle school records from sixth to eighth grade.

Other returners for the Owls who ran in the state meet include sophomores Abby Voss, Claire Loebker and Oriana Morales and senior Megan Winter.

“Each year, since I started coaching, the success that we have has driven them for more,” Sunbury said. “The girls returning from our varsity seven have caught fire. Megan Winter had an incredible track season and is much further along than last season when she was injured. Claire Lubker has been running great, and most of the girls are running better and understand what it takes to get where they want to be. We’re a little hungrier than last year.”

Senior Maya Hauersperger and sophomore Lily Mullis also are expected to finish well for the Owls this season, Sunbury said.

The team is loaded with young runners itching to crack the top seven.

“I think the team looks pretty strong,” senior Miakela Grout said. “Our freshman and sophomore group are probably the strongest out of everyone. I think we will take a lot of the top-12 spots this year. I like it. I think the younger runners are bringing more energy to the team.”

One of the biggest difference between last year’s and this team is the level of running.

Now, the competition is so fierce the girls run together in a pack.

“The team is shaping up,” Winter said. “We’re going to be pretty strong. It will be different running together in a big pack, but it’s good because it’s going to be a good group of scorers.

“I think its been more competitive because we’re all in the same group. We’re pushing each other and constantly wanting to be in front of one another. Now that we have our foot in the door at state, and people know who we are, they expect more out of it. Right now, Indiana Runner has us ranked 20th (in the state), but we beat one of the teams that’s ranked ahead of us at last year’s state meet.”

Last season, the Owls’ record was 87-19, with six invitational wins including the Flashrock Invite, one of the most competitive races in Indiana.

This year’s team started practicing with one another, outside school, two week’s after the end of the track season in the spring.

“We’re building up the mileage, and (Sunbury) is having us do more core to strengthen and help prevent injuries,” Hauersperger said. “I think its been better. We started by the middle of June, with the lower mileage. We are hoping to place higher in state and set personal records. When we’re running together we’re pushing one another.”

For Sunbury, practices slightly changed this past summer.

“I think the only thing that’s changed is the intensity,” Sunbury said. “When we run, the paces that we expect are stiffer. Our mileage is pretty much the same, it will probably increase a little; but for me it’s about the quality of running, not the miles. I don’t’ know how good some girls can be, since some don’t have a lot of experience. We’re working on running stronger and faster rather than running a ton of miles.”

Junior Mya Findley said that the team’s seniors are taking leadership roles by working with the underclassmen.

“I’ve seen a lot of the team step up and take the initiative to make themselves better,” Findley said. “It’s kind of exciting to see because you can see what’s going to happen as the season goes on.”

A week from Thursday, the Owls will kick-start their season hosting the Seymour Invitational at Freeman Field.

“I want to see a great team, group effort,” Sunbury said. “I think it helps build the bond between the girls. I would love to see a big, huge pack running towards the front of the race. I want to see them set the tone early and show confidence and pride. I want them to make a statement that they’re ready to run this year.”

A school record 35 girls are a part of the 2015 Owls girls cross-country team.

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“It was exciting for us that we finally made it to state, but it’s just the tip of what we can achieve here. We can’t just be happy that we made it last year, and I think the returning girls know they can do more.”

Owls cross-country coach Spencer Sunbury