Broncos begin title defense

Three years ago the Brookwood boys cross country team was the heavy favorite going into the state meet.

Then the Broncos were hit with injuries, followed by a little bad luck, and finished fourth at state.

Head coach Ben Dehnke took the meet as a learning point and he reevaluated the Broncos' program.

"We kind of went back to the drawing board after that. We made some changes," Dehnke said.

The new method worked. Brookwood has won the last two Class AAAAA state championships and is again the favorite this season.

"I guess if you look on paper, I suppose we are (the favorite) at this point," Dehnke said. "But that doesn't mean anything if you don't come through."

That's what happened in 2008. The Broncos had a talented team, but fell apart late in the season.

Dehnke gathered his seniors and determined they should not race as much late in the season. That would leave the runners ready by the end of the year. He also put less emphasis on the build-up of meets.

The new method worked in 2009 with standout runner Tyler Anyan leading the Broncos to their first state crown since 2003. The Broncos repeated last year and with a deep senior class could make it three-peat in November.

"Talent-wise, we're pretty similar to last year," Dehnke said. "I don't know if we'll be better at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, but we certainly have the depth."

The Broncos lost four starters off their top seven runners last year, but replacing them shouldn't be a problem. Brookwood has 116 runners in its boys program, including almost 20 seniors.

"Our depth is pretty tremendous for us," Dehnke said.

Morgan Malanoski and Matt Barudin are the Broncos' top runners based on personal records and the spring track season. However, Gabe Gomez produced the top time in the pre-season time trial. Drew Vander Wood was the team's No. 8 runner last year despite placing 17th at county and will play a more pivotal role this year. Chad Seder, Austin Veith, Matthew McClintock, Kevin Marsh, Kiesan Smith, Trevor Turner, Joseph Buda, Austin Murdaugh and Eliseo Magallon will battle for the final three spots in the starting lineup.

"With four guys on the (Daily Post's) Super Six, I think they want to live up to expectations," Dehnke said. "They know winning a county championship is big deal and so is a region championship and we didn't do that last year."

Dehnke will find out how good his team is on Saturday at the Stage Races. The season-opening meet is a two-mile race at River Green Park in Duluth. There are seven stage groups with the top runners all starting together, the No. 2 runners together, No. 3 and so on.

"I think it will be a good experience," Dehnke said. "It's a good low-key race as a warm-up."