The story of the North Callaway varsity track and field team has two chapters to it.

The first chapter revolves around the boys team and the fact this squad didn't lose anyone to graduation. The team also has just one senior this season, meaning next year will also feature a wealth of returning talent against an incredibly minimal number of losses.

"I am blessed as a coach to have a group of guys who have been running cross country for several years.  The experience these guys bring to the table will be one of their greatest strength," said head coach Chad Craghead. "I have a lone senior, Jared Bailey. This is his third year running for North Callaway cross country and when he graduates he will be my longest boy in the program lost to graduation."

In addition to Bailey, also coming back for the Thunderbirds from a year ago are juniors Ean Rohrbach, Josh McCowan, Joshua Craghead and Khobi Kellerman. Another area the team will try and draw from is its new talent. This includes freshmen former North Callaway junior high runners Noah Scrogum and Joseph Crawford and first-year team member Grant Eichman.

"Our team has some experience and is a very competitive bunch of guys. I look forward to seeing what another year of experience does for them," Craghead said. "One thing I want to see these boys improve on is more running up in the front 30-40 percent of the pack. They need to push their limits each and every race."

Last season the Thunderbirds finished fifth in the Eastern Missouri Conference. While the goal is still to climb the conference standings, because of the stranglehold that been taking place at the top of the league the past several years, aiming for a title this season might be a bit premature.

"Bowling Green is always the top dog to beat. Coach Chance is a dear friend of mine and he has a tremendous program both men and women," said Craghead. "I know if we compete good against any of his teams we have something to be proud of."

Even though the Ladybirds also didn't lose any talent to graduation, it will next year. Until then the team has the benefit and experience of upperclassmen like seniors Kyla Bertschinger, Reyna Schmauch, Alyssa Rinehart and Brooke Fischer. Junior Christa Gilman is also back, as are sophomores Brianna Douglas and Daelyn Schmauch.

"This team was the first girl’s team in NCHS history to qualify for the MSHSAA Cross Country State Championship meet," Craghead said. "These girls are as solid as they come. Brooke Fischer has been a part of NCXC for all four years. I was joking with her at practice last night when I was looking at the team of 18 total runners.  Her freshman year she was one of three runners. This program has grown leaps and bounds and she has been with me every step of the way."

Last year in the postseason the Ladybirds began by placing second at districts and was the runner up at the Eastern Missouri Conference meet. Also earning All-EMO and All-district honors were Daelyn Schmauch, Kyla Bertschinger, Reyna Schmauch, who grabbed All-State accolades, as well.

"Counting Jared I will lose five athletes to graduation after this season and it will be a sad day. These kids have been a huge part of the team being where it is now," said Craghead. "We are going to miss all of these runners, but not shedding any tears yet. We have a season to run."

In regards to what this team wants to accomplish in 2017, its biggest obstacle to taking the EMO title will be Bowling Green. One problem with that is North Callaway doesn't have the depth they do, so by the time the end of the season comes around the potential for fatigue to kick in becomes just a little greater for one side than the other.

"Bowling Green is the team to beat. We got second to them several times last year. including conference and districts, and if that is the only team that beat us I know we are doing a great job," Craghead said. "Bowling Green is a program of history and success and has a great Coach. I would like to compete with them again the best we can and see what happens."

What all this success translated to for the Ladybirds in 2016 was a record of 75-20 and an eighth place finish at the state meet. This includes winning four invitationals and five second-place showings.

"Last season was history-making and one that these girls want to build on. This team is stacked with experienced runners and that experience is something I can’t coach," said Craghead. "Like the boys I have so many turning runners. That is by far their greatest strength. They have all been here before. We need to improve on our pack running. The teams that beat us last year run as a pack and to beat these teams we have to have more of our girls bunched together."