The Palmyra cross country program starts its sixth season and coach Nick Koetters is hopeful this could be one of the most competitive seasons — both for the boys and girls.

The Lady Panthers graduated their top two runners from a season ago, but Koetters will have seven new faces with the program this season, including six freshmen.

“We are really young, but once we get them all healthy and used to running at the high school level I think we will be pretty decent,” the sixth-year coach said of his girls team.

The Lady Panthers roster comprises nine athletes, but in the early part of the season a trio of them are shelved due to injury.

Koetters mentioned the boys team did not finish as strong last season as what they would have liked, but they have a strong nucleus returning that should create some buzz.

“We had some guys fall off towards the end of last season for whatever reason, but I think those returning have a bit of a chip on their shoulder and extra motivation this year,” he said. “I think they return with the mindset to do, this year, what we probably should have done last season.”

Koetters and the Panthers will rely on senior Nick Mudd and junior Brett Griesbaum to lead the boys team this year.

“With our top two guys returning we have high expectations for them this year,” Koetters said. “Nick Mudd is a fourth-year returning guy for us and has been our leader pretty much for the past two years.

“Brett has put in a lot of work over the summer to improve. They both are looking pretty good.”

The Panthers will also get a boost this season from a past football player and a transfer from Hannibal.

Senior Brock Boulware spent the past three falls on the gridiron with the Panthers football team, while Spencer Locke moves in from across the county.

“Brock is transitioning over football this season, but he is also a track athlete so he has that speed and toughness which should make him another one of our top runners,” Koetters noted. “Spencer adds depth to our top four, all of whom are really pushing each other and creating a lot of competition.”

Aaron Stamper, Boyd Triplett, Brady Buckman and Zach Rosenkrans all will be competing for the final three varsity spots.

Stamper was the top runner last season in the junior high program.

On the girls side, Kinsey Tiemann, Alicia Bryan and Abi Lyon all return from last season's team. The trio usually ran third, fourth and fifth for the Lady Panthers, according to Koetters.

Freshmen Emily Jeffries and Lydia Szarka are two newcomers who will expect to battle for a top spot on the Lady Panthers roster this season.

“Emily and Lydia were our top two runners in the junior high program last season,” the Panthers coach noted. “They both usually finished close together.”

Bella Perkins is another promising freshman on the team. Perkins is nursing an injury to start the season, but Koetters expects her to compete toward the top once she is back healthy.

Senior Rebecca Reinbeck is new to the sport this season. She is another runner who is not at 100 percent to start the season and is also someone Koetters thinks will help the team.

“She came out for track last season as a junior and really liked it,” he said. “She is just a competitor and will do whatever to help the team. I think once she gets used to the distance, she will fight, claw and do whatever to compete.”

Koetters mentioned he is perfectly fine with not having a clear-cut top runner to start the season.

“I think our top five or six will fluctuate,” he said. “And I am good with that because it will create some good competition between the team.

"I think once we get everyone healthy it will be interesting to see just how good we can be.”

Palmyra opens the season Sept. 9 when it hosts a home invite.