Claudia Nichols is just one of four girls on the Hannibal cross country team. She wants to leave an imprint on the program that's building for the future.

HANNIBAL – Claudia Nichols may feel like a mother figure this fall.

She’s the lone senior, boy or girl, for the Hannibal cross country teams this season. That means it’s up to her to provide leadership and guide the Pirates this season.

“I’ve had to step up and be a leader,” Nichols said. “I’ve got some great teammates, too, but I come in and encourage these freshmen and it’s really fun. I had seniors that I looked up to, and that’s what I want (the younger runners) to do, too.

“It’s a little intimidating, but I want to take that challenge on.”

She’s doing that while hoping to improve her own running, too.

Nichols finished 124th in last year’s Class 4 state meet, crossing the finish line in 21 minutes, 28.86 seconds. She was a little more than three minutes behind the Class 4 champion Ginger Murnieks of Lee’s Summit West.

Her goal is to get back to state again and place higher, which she’s worked on by running more this offseason. Nichols figures she averaged anywhere to 25 to 40 miles per week this summer.

She also hopes her three teammates in Alexia Gonzalez, Andrew Bryant and Katie Lock can place well enough to join her at state.

Since the Pirates only have four girls out for cross country, they won’t be able to compete in the team scoring unless a fifth runner joins the team. That allows Nichols to focus on individual running.

“We can individual compete, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Nichols said. “But we’re still going to bond and push each other to get better. It’s more fun to have other people to run with and be inspired by each other.”

Nichols is also wanting to defend her North Central Missouri Conference championship she won last season. She won last year’s NCMC race in 23:21 and became the first Hannibal runner to win the girls conference crown since 2010.

“She really does everything well,” Hannibal coach Charlie Newland said. “She’ll have a little bit of a target on her back, and she’s aware of that. I know she’s ready to compete and work hard.”

Nichols knows while the girls team is small on numbers, they can still compete. She hopes that if the team competes well in the conference and in the postseason, it’ll attract more kids to the team in the future.

She thinks the foundation is there, and she wants to leave her mark and leave the program in a better place.

“They’ve definitely got a bright future,” Nichols said.