Both the Newton boys and girls teams are young, and will take a strong effort from everyone Saturday during the Region 2-AAAAA Meet in order to have a chance at qualifying for state.
In order to qualify for state, teams must place among the top four or the top six individuals must finish in the region meet, which will be held at Newton High School.
For the boys, Newton has a good shot at placing third. Meanwhile the Lady Rams are hoping to sneak into the fourth spot.
"What I expect are our best times," said Newton head coach Aaron Robinson. "If we can get the best out of every individual....I've always said that you're team is only as fast in cross country as your fifth man. We're going to have to have the results from them, too, and if that happens I think we have a real good shot and might even surprise some people."
The Newton boys started off the season strong; however, the girls did not fare so well. According to Robinson, he didn't know what to expect.
But that's all changed now.
"I've been real impressed with their diligence," said Robinson of the girls team. "Improvement is what we're looking for all the time, so I've been pleased.
"For the boys there's a great bit of potential there," added Robinson, "and I think they're living up to it."
Senior Travis Knight has really taken on the role of leading the boys this season.
"Travis has gotten a good number of first places," remarked Robinson. "His success is coming around mostly because he's gotten to where he takes it so seriously. He's dedicated to running and gets the job done, and that's what we like to see."
Knight says the biggest difference between this year and last year is the number of seniors - or lack there of - on the team. The Rams have three seniors on the team, and are a lot younger than in years past.
"It's been a lot harder because we're a very young team," said Knight. "But overall it's been fun. We're doing really (well) as a team. I just hope that they can carry it on after the seniors leave."
The confident yet grounded Knight says he has no concerns regarding the other schools racing this weekend.
"There are some guys from the other schools (who) have really good runners," said Knight. "But I think as a team we have a chance just as much as anybody to do well in region and hopefully win."
According to junior Raymond Menefee, one of his goals is to place among the top 10 during the region meet.
"I just want to try (and) get some points for the team," said Menefee. "It's just real fun running with this team."
Menefee, who also runs track, has the second-best time on the team (18:17).
"Raymond has been more like an additional bonus," said Robinson.
Another pleasant surprise for the Rams has been senior LeDarren Hall.
"We've been pretty good," said Hall. "We have a pretty good team and a good chance at regionals. We (have) a good chance of placing; I just hope we can keep up with the competition."
For the girls, the Lady Rams lost six of eight seniors from last year's roster.
"We lost a lot of girls," said senior Megan Heineman, "so we had to kind of start over with fresh people (who) don't always know what to do and how to push themselves; the experience is not as high."
The lack of experience has made it difficult for the Lady Rams; however, Robinson says that they have overcome that in many ways
"It makes it difficult, but the girls have sort of overcome that in a lot of ways and really do have a chance of qualifying for state," said Robinson.
Should they do so, it would be the fourth straight year the Lady Rams will have qualified.
"Ameryst (Armstead) has shown the times and ability to take down first place individually," praised Robinson. "Heineman has a real good shot up there, too, of finishing in the top six."
Last year Heineman finished 11th, but she's already improved her times drastically this season.
No. 3 runner Tashia Bowrin, a sophomore, has improved from 30 minutes to 25 1/2, which is exactly what the Lady Rams have needed. No. 4 Claire Davis has done a lot of positive things for the team this season, while junior Shinita Caldwell has also impressed Robinson.
"At this point in the season, we're working on turning some of the endurance and stamina into flat out speed," noted Robinson.
According to Robinson, sophomore Carl Collins and freshman Jamal Green - including some of the other runners in the back - is what's going to make the boys team have any success in the region meet.
"We're going to need our fourth and fifth guys," said Robinson, "and that's been (junior) Tyler Ransom and (senior) Joey Joseph. We're starting to see some movement from our six, seven and eight runners.
The Region 2-AAAA begins with the girls at 9 a.m. Saturday at Newton High School, while the boys start at 10 a.m.