GRANBY — The East Newton Patriots and Lady Patriots hope to reload and not rebuild for the 2018 season.

The boys squad won a district title last season and finished second in the Big 8 Conference, while the girls placed third in the Big 8 and fourth at districts.

On the boys side, junior Jacob Bennion leads the returners and sophomore Maci Renner does likewise for the girls.

"The boys lost five boys who ran on last year’s district championship team," East Newton head coach Jake Holt said, "but this year’s team will be more consistent and should find more success. The girls only return two runners from last year’s team, but the girls that we have are all high quality and with good health should do some amazing things."

Additional returning athletes are sophomores Layton Earll and Marcus Shaffer on the boys side and sophomore Ellie Hicks on the girls.

As you can see, both East Newton cross country squads are on the youthful side, predominantly sophomores and freshmen.

Holt said that three freshmen boys should make varsity — Gabe Bergen, Garrett Downum, and Kelton Sorrell — with senior Kobe Smith, sophomores Wyatt Patterson and Gavin Payne, and freshman Toshi Bennion in competition for the final varsity spot.

On the girls side, freshmen Jasmine Hill, Sierra Martsoff, Laynee Casady, Ella Rader, and Kenzie Massey complete the varsity roster.

Holt said the freshmen all enjoyed success at the junior high level.

Team expectations for the upcoming season are to finish at or near the top of the new Big 8 Conference for both boys and girls and to qualify both teams to state in Class 3. Holt said that making state for both will be a challenge with East Newton being the smallest school in Class 3.

"The new Big 8 Conference will look a lot different this year with 14 total teams," Holt said. "Logan-Rogersville and Springfield Catholic are solid programs year in and year out and have tremendous coaches leading them. Both of these teams are in our district as well. Bolivar, led by coach Ron Bandy, has one of the best programs in the entire state. They are the early favorites to win the boys and girls district titles."

Other schools in East Newton's district include Aurora, Buffalo, Cassville, Forsyth, Hollister, Monett, Mount Vernon, Nevada, Reeds Spring, and Seneca, most of which are Big 8 schools. In fact, 11 of the 14 schools in the district are Big 8 members.

Holt, assisted by junior high coach Les Shaeffer, shared team strengths, how athletes fared in offseason workouts, and the keys to a successful season.

"This team is very close and they are all extremely hard workers," Holt said. "We are a very young team, so the future is also very bright.

"The kids put in a lot of work this summer and had nearly perfect attendance to all summer workouts. Most of these kids also attended SWMO Running Camp in their preparation.

"Continued improvement, complete buy in to what we do, and amazing health."

Holt said the freshmen runners have stepped right in working hard and they believe they will have success.