COLUMBIA — With Saturday's Class 4, District 5 meet looming before them, a small but determined Hickman cross country team is setting its sights high.
Despite having the largest student body in the state with more than 2,000 people, Hickman's team has just more than 20 runners, boys and girls combined.
"We've had a few more in the past. (The team is) one of our smaller groups. We always like to have more depth," coach Steve Kissane said.
The Kewpies girls team, in particular, has had a tough season due to only having nine runners. A full varsity team requires seven runners.
Though they started with a disappointing showing in their opening meet, finishing ninth out of 12 teams at the First Capital Invitational in St. Charles, Kissane said the girls have rebounded and come together during the season's remaining meets.
"I really take my hat off to them for remaining as positive as they have and keeping their spirit up and so on," he said.
While there are various reasons that a larger team is preferable, the repercussions of injuries are the biggest concern for a small team.
"It's tougher from a health standpoint," Kissane said. "If you lose any of them during the season, it's tougher for another kid to move in to fill that void."
Multiple runners have battled injuries during the season, including senior Jordan Fleming. Fleming, a 10th place finisher at the state meet last year, has performed well this season despite the setbacks. He finished in or near the top 10 in most meets, including a second place finish at the Paul Enke/Hazelwood Central Invitational in St. Louis.
Kissane said injuries are a normal possibility for anyone in any sport who is giving a maximal effort.
"No matter what the size of our group is, if we ever lined up seven guys or gals who felt 100 percent at the starting line of the district meet ... I'd probably be more concerned."
Amid all of the setbacks posed by a small team, though, Kissane is optimistic at the teams' chances for success this weekend.
"We had a group about this size last year. The boys were district and sectional champs and fifth in state."
A possible speedbump for the Kewpies, however, is a district that was realigned this offseason, changing the lineup of school's Hickman had become accustomed to facing. The team will be facing some schools that they usually wouldn't compete against until sectionals.
Kissane isn't fazed, though.
"It's going to be tough no matter where you go. You're going to run into quality schools, and you're just going to have to compete with them."
The team plans on preparing just as they normally would, regardless of who they will face. Kissane outlined the plan in very simple terms.
"To prepare as best we can this week, stay positive, line up, and give it everything we've got."
Though it may seem like the Kewpies have had everything but the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at them, they do have the benefit of home field advantage at the district meet. The meet takes place in Cosmo-Bethel Park, about five miles from Hickman.
Kissane is happy about the boost this may provide the team.
"We've got a course that we're familiar with and not having to travel certainly is a plus. So we're excited."