Both Van Meter’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams claimed fourth place in the West Central Activities Conference last season, in only the second season as an independent program.

The Bulldogs are eager to continue that success this season in year three.

"I think the program is continuing to make great strides," said Annie Pettit, who leads the program with Dave Tapps. "We have many more junior high kids out this season compared to the previous two. We’ve seen some hard work from the kids, and they are proud to represent Van Meter."

The Bulldog boys return six of their seven runners from a season ago, including two-time state qualifier Austin Dunbar. Dunbar was 57th at state two years ago, and last season, improved by 19 seconds and 14 places to finish 43rd in 17:32.

"Each year, Austin has improved at state," Pettit said. "It would be great to see a top-30 finish from him."

Also returning is junior James Orf, who was a state qualifier in the 3,200-meter run last spring. Junior Michael Kinley and sophomores Ty Thomas, John Maher and David Brangoccio are also back, and letterwinners Will Seiler and Austin Stoll also return.

Juniors Ben Thompson, Paxton Gillespie and Colten Murphy could also be contributors to the varsity team this season, Pettit said.

Injuries prevented the girls’ squad from fielding a full team two years ago, and they have cropped up again to sideline several runners. Right now, the team has six, including four returning starters from a year ago: senior Sarah Koch, juniors Emma Skahill and Maddie Allen, and sophomore Grace Seiler. Juniors Jennifer Banks and Melinda Davis will also compete.

"We hope to finish in the top half of the conference again and have all of our runners continue to improve," Pettit said.

Leadership has been an important component of the program in the first two years, and Pettit looks for that to continue this fall.

"It is great to have the leadership of the athletes who have been in the program all three years, and have them encourage the new runners as well as the younger ones," she said.