QUICKSBURG --Stonewall Jackson returns a strong nucleus of runners to both its boys and girls cross country teams and the Generals are optimistic for the upcoming season.

One of the biggest challenges the teams will be facing this season is the move from Class 1 to Class 2 as well as moving from the Shenandoah District to the Bull Run. Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan said that she believes her team can have success at the Class 2 level.

“We’re going to approach this as we’re not going to be afraid of it,” Clanahan said. “We host an invitational that has about 30 teams in it and (Class 6) and (Class 5) schools love to come out here. And our boys and girls have run in the midst of them.”

The Generals have had plenty of success the last few years at the Class 1 level. Both the boys and girls teams have advanced to the state meet the last two years. Last year the girls finished fifth in the state meet, while the boys were seventh.

The runners said they were looking forward to running in a new classification and district.

“I’m kind of excited but I kind of miss being (Class 1) because it’s going to be harder to get to states,” Stonewall Jackson junior Zach Wine said. “So we need to work harder to get there. I’m going to miss running against some of the teams that we ran against in the old district.”

The boys team returns four runners from last year’s top seven runners led by Wine. Junior Andrew Lute, sophomore Ethan Bly and senior Riley Gonzalez should also help lead the way this season. Clanahan said that she’s also excited to see what sophomore Will Streett does. She said last year his knees we’re bothering him a little but he’s fully healthy now.

The Generals lost Zachari Munoz, Garrett Estep and Fortis Brake to graduation and Clanahan said that a big key will be to see who can step up and help fill their spots.

The girls team lost Haley and Carley Bennett to graduation, but returns most of the squad from last year.

Stonewall Jackson senior Melissa Oczkowski said that she likes what she’s seen from the girls team so far.

“We’re looking good,” Oczkowski said. “We have a ton of juniors. So it’s kind of a young team, so that’s good. Everyone is working really hard. So I think we should go far this year.”

Junior Eli Dellinger will be leading the way for the Generals. Dellinger placed ninth in the Class 1 state meet last year. Clanahan said Dellinger is focused and running hard in the preseason.

“Eli knows she has to work hard,” Clanahan said. “She’s running hard. She’s running up with some of the guys right now to get herself ready. She’s such a competitor. She wears it all on her face. ...She’s complacent with being up in that top 10 (at states) to a point. She’d like to be No. 1, but she respects those around her that if you’re going to be No. 1 in front of her then you’re going to earn it — and she will make you earn it. We’re excited for her going into her junior year because she’s worked so hard as a freshman and sophomore.”

Dellinger, Oczkowski, and senior Ella Hervo-Smith are the top returners from last year’s girls squad. Clanahan said she’s looking for some other runners to step up and help the team at the bottom of the lineup.

Clanahan said that she also has a new assistant coach whom she believes will be valuable to the coaching staff — 2014 Stonewall Jackson graduate and cross country standout Ashton Davis.

“It gives them a different perspective, a younger perspective,” Clanahan said. “I can remember me being the younger one with the kids when (former Stonewall Jackson cross country) coach (John) Wymer was coaching. But now we’ve got Ashton coaching with them. And she’s saying ‘hey (Clanahan) kind of knows what she’s talking about but I can give it to you in your terms, that you might understand a little bit better.’ She’s run on the course and she knows the course really well. And she can get out and do some of the things that I physically can’t. It’s great to have her because she is an all-state runner and will be great for them, a great asset for our program.”

Clanahan said it will be a challenge to advance to regionals and to states once again, but she believes her team can do it. Clanahan has also given her team a little extra motivation. She and Davis have agreed that if the team advances to the state meet that they will learn how to do the ‘Git Up’ dance, which is a dance to the song ‘Git Up’ by Blanco Brown, and post it on the Internet.

“Watch out for our kids because they love that challenge that we will learn how to do that crazy ‘Git Up’ challenge,” Clanahan said. “We told them we will learn it and then we will do that just to motivate them. I kissed a snake on live camera during the (Stonewall Jackson) morning announcements) one year and motivated my girls. I don’t want to (kiss that) snake again, but I’ll learn that crazy dance if it’s going to motivate the kids. I just love having fun with them.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com