A turnout of 25 runners makes Haines High School’s cross-country teams larger than they’ve been in years, coach Liam Cassidy said this week.

It’s been five years since the team was so big. “We’re really healthy in numbers this year. It definitely makes for a stronger team. Attendance has been very strong at practice,” he said.

Cassidy attributes this year’s growth to the camaraderie between friends on the team. Newcomers joined largely because their friends were on the team. “That’s how it happens. I’d say the love of people’s friends is usually stronger than their love of the actual sport.”

The first meet will be in Petersburg on Sept. 1. Practice began July 30 and is held weekdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

While much of his coaching strategy is similar to that of last year’s, Cassidy said one big difference this year is having the team train more on trails.

“We’re trying to orient every run toward getting out on some cool trail, and I think people have really been enjoying that. I know I have. I think it’s great to get off the road. The zombie trail (at the fairgrounds) is a very athletic trail. You have a lot of moves you have to make and stuff. I think that kind of running makes you more of a complete athlete.”

Cassidy said the trails also prepare the team for this year’s regional meet – their most important race – which will be held on Juneau’s particularly hilly course.

Goals for this year include seeing everyone stay healthy, functioning well as a team, and getting both the boys’ and the girls’ teams to qualify for the state meet, Cassidy said. “Bringing both teams to state is the goal every year. It seems to be a very reasonable goal for us to have.”

Last year, both teams narrowly missed trips to state by a single place. Four runners qualified as individuals, including Corey Piper and Zayla Asquith-Heinz. Piper is a senior this year and Asquith-Heinz, a sophomore.

“They (Piper and Asquith-Heinz) are in a really good position to lead their team to state this year,” Cassidy said.

This year’s team has some great leaders, he said. “You know, vocal leaders and also quiet leaders who just do everything right. And they seem to get along real well with each other. There are people who show up to practice with a lot of energy.”

Piper and fellow seniors Tia Heywood, Brandon Bachman, and Jess Giddings have been on the team since their freshman year.

Three freshmen joined the team this year. Cassidy said recent Haines incoming freshman Alexandria Chapin, who moved out of state and had trained with the team since last year, will be missed. “She’s leaving a big pair of barefoot shoes to fill,” he said.

This year’s meets include at Skagway Sept. 7, at Ketchikan Sept. 15, the regional meet in Juneau on Sept. 22, and the state meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage on Sept. 29.

Lilly Boron and Chandler Kemp are also coaching and running with the team this year.