The Pendleton Buckaroos have a buzz of excitement around this season. Following a summer of fun team-building activities and a first day of practice that saw 41 runners show up, fifth-year coach Nicole Stewart said the positive atmosphere in the weight room and on the trail is spreading.
"The atmosphere that we're trying to create is one that's contagious and the kids want to be a part of," she said. "They're having a lot of fun but working like crazy."
After both teams missed the state meet last season, Stewart said the goals she's overheard the team talking about are a state berth for the girls and a rise in the Intermountain Conference ranks for the boys.
The girls' team will be led by Christine Harwood, Jackie Sheoships and Nicole and Katie Dillavou. Stewart said the quartet has formed a strong nucleus for the girls' side and are ahead of where they were this time a year ago.
In a 1.5-mile time trial, Stewart reported the girls' team was two minutes ahead of their time taken a year ago.
She said it will be hard to know what that really means until they see some actual competition, but it is encouraging.
The boys will literally be running for their spot on varsity each week.
"There are 10 guys that could be varsity any given week," she said.
She did say Joe Baum and Mike Fiore have established themselves as leaders.
Stewart hopes the constant internal competition will lead to better times in meets.
"You have a better varsity team if they're always worried about keeping their spots," she said.
The team starts their season with a warm-up at The Dalles-Wahtonka Invite Saturday, a road race that Stewart will run with the team and said will determine the boys' starters for their Sep. 5 meet at the Elgin Mile High Run.
They will race at the Seaside Invitational again, as well as the Trask Invitational and Puma meet in Bend. The Bucks' home meet is the Wildhorse Invitational and will be run Oct. 10 at Wildhorse Golf Course.
The district meet is in Bend this season.