It will be a unique fall for the Redwood Valley boys and girls cross country teams as they kick off the 2020 campaign Aug. 27 in Marshall.

Competing with the challenges brought about by COVID-19, the Cardinal cross country kids have been fortunate to at least be allowed to participate when other fall sports were moved to March.

“I have to say I was uncertain of how it would all go heading into the start of practice and how I would feel,” longtime Head Coach Shawn Cilek said, “but honestly it’s been going great. It’s really been a lot of fun so far.”

The practice set up with COVID rules in place is different, the team is broken up into pods (senior high boys, senior high girls, junior high), and the meets will be different with only three teams maximum allowed to compete at the same time.

That said, the kids have been learning how to adjust on the fly and are embracing the new way of doing things.

“There are definitely some team-building exercises we haven’t been able to do like we’ve done in the past,” he said. “Although I mentioned to the kids that this is a great chance to start some new traditions.”

The Cardinal boys will return their top three runners from a team that finished second at the Section 3A meet a season ago – topping Pipestone Area 92-93 for the runner-up spot – and should be competitive.

Leading the way is the senior duo of Jayson Peyerl and Mason Clark. The tandem finished fifth and sixth respectively at the Section meet and will be veteran two-headed monster that should lead a young group.

Teammate Camden Cilek is also back after finishing 18th at the Section meet and will be looking to improve upon that finish during his sophomore campaign.

The Cardinals will have the tough task of replacing their bottom five runners from a season ago – all lost to graduation – but have some talent on the rise beginning with Cohen Frank and Kilen Cilek.

“Cohen has looked great,” Cilek said. “We really challenged those guys, and he’s responded well.”

Will Ahrens and Daniel Haen will round out the top seven and will be pushed by runners Lucas Elmer, Skyler Sherbon and Jack Frank.

“The boys have some talent,” Cilek said. “I think we’re further beyond where I’d thought we’d be at this point.”

The girls, meanwhile, are coming off of a solid fourth-place finish at Sections but will have the difficult task of replacing departed standout Maddie LeSage to a family move – fourth at Sections, two-time state participant – along with graduated state entrant Jasmine Barnes.

Junior Catherine Buffie – a past state entrant – returns after finishing one spot out of a state berth a year ago in 15th.

Freshman Olivia Stoterau has looked good early in practice and will look to build upon a 23rd place finish at the Section meet one year ago.

Payton Schueller – 62nd at Sections last season – has been the eye opener so far in practice and will jump into the top three varsity runners.

Freshman McKenna Flinn is back along with Madi Munsell and seniors Ari Kerkhoff-Shaw, Aubrie Milhausen and newcomers Aubree Hicks, Hannah Schjenken and Kate Ahrens.

Ellie Nelson and seventh-grader Tristyn Wolner will be runners to watch as the season progresses. Both youngsters will see action on varsity to start the year.

The Cardinals were hurt with several returning runners with varsity experience opting not to compete this fall, along with the loss of Grace Caraway to a family move.

“The girls have looked good so far,” Cilek said. “It will be a different look from last year but sometimes that can work out well.”

The postseason is still up in the air as no potential Section or state meet has been scheduled as of yet. Cilek said they will race throughout the season as if there will be a postseason.

The Cardinals open up the season Aug. 27 at Marshall and will compete in Worthington next Thursday (Sept. 3).