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Girls XC Preview: Clifton, Opsal back to lead the charge

If the trend of the previous four years continues, the Farmington girls cross country team should be ready to crack the top three in the Missota Conference.

The Tigers moved up at least a spot in all three of Keith Revels' years as head coach, going from eighth to seventh in 2006, to sixth in 2007 and all the way up to fourth at the conference meet last fall. All but one runner is back from that team, which will be taken over by new head coach Heidi Revels.

"Our toughest conference competition will be Prior Lake, Shakopee and New Prague. The team has made significant progress the last few years and we are now in the top half of the field," Heidi Revels said. "Since we've got everybody but one runner back, we have a chance to edge up a bit more this year."

Leading the way individually will likely be junior Nicole Clifton and sophomore Bailey Opsal. The tandem rotated turns at the top of the lineup last year as both earned honorable mention all-conference honors. Clifton came on strong late in the season and led the team at both the conference (16th) and section (32nd) meets.

While Clifton, Opsal and graduated senior Jackie Beckett rotated in the team's top three spots, eighth-grader Maria Kiminski consistently locked down the No. 4 position. She's back this year, as are fellow freshman Naomi Wood and eighth graders Maricia Pacheco and Maddie Strid. Pacheco, along with sophomore Marissa Stewart, was named the team's Rookie of the Year award winner.

Other returning letterwinners who Revels expects will contend for spots in the varsity lineup are senior Angie Schull and sophomore Emily Gerster (Most Improved award). Top JV runners Hanna Bachman, Jamie Kenealy, Natalia Sitzman, Molly Friedlund and Sofia Chadwick could also move up.

"We had a number of gals come to practice in late July and then continue into August with captains practice," Revels said. "It's hard to say until we get them late into the first week or early second week who made a move over the summer."

The Tigers open the season Sept. 4 at the Dakota County Invite in Eagan.