You don't often see high school kids with a relationship with Winston Churchill these days. But for coach Mike Bushey and his Cloquet cross-country team, one quote from the old master seems appropriate for this season.
"It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best,'" Churchill said. "You must succeed in doing what is necessary."
That mantra resonates with Bushey and also with his runners, who together comprise what is believed to be the biggest roster in school history.
Sixty-eight runners in grades 9-12 are out for the team with another 35 middle school runners joining them — and more expected once school starts.
"Obviously, middle schoolers can't drive to practice, so we generally get a few more coming out once they can get to practice after school," Bushey said.
But back to Churchill. The team, made up largely of track athletes and Nordic skiers, has big goals after the boys team finished second to Forest Lake in the section meet last fall, earning a trip to state. But to reach those goals, the team will have to work hard day in and day out, even when it's unpleasant.
"There are times when running is fun and times when it's work," Bushey said. "It's making yourself get out there and work when you don't want to that makes you improve."
Tuesday's practice, which involved team members running hill drills in the rain, was a case in point.
"We've got a team of great kids," Bushey said. "Just great kids. They want to work hard and today was not a good day to work."
The boys are led by seniors Aiden Ripp, who was in the top 50 at last year's state meet, Blaine Bong and Brady Hall. But they are part of a deep team Bushey says could see any of up to 12 runners taking spots on the seven-member varsity team.
"We do have depth on the boys' side," Bushey said. "Making varsity will be hard."
And because of the numbers game, it might be said that making the Cloquet varsity team could be more difficult than scoring points for the school in a varsity meet.
"Interesting way to put it," Bushey said, "but we will have competition. We have runners who would have been scoring varsity runners in years past who won't make our top seven for some meets."
The girls are led by sophomore Lauren Cawcutt, who has reached the last two state meets and finished 99th as a freshman last year, along with seniors Elise Pickar and Kelly Lorenz.
Forest Lake is the defending section champion in both boys' and girls' competitions. Bushey sees them as the obvious team to beat.
"They have the targets on their backs, but we have goals now that the boys have been to state as team," he said. "And that means working to reach them."
Now that team members have tasted success in the sport, Bushey says the runners have reason to work hard that may not have been there before.
"A couple years ago, we had a team that lost out on a trip to state on a tiebreaker," he said. "Those kids had to wonder what could have happened 'if,' and these runners don't want to do that."
This year's team features up to 15 new runners at the high school level and a number of middle-schoolers who have to learn their craft.
"The good thing is that we have a large number of role models for the new runners to look up to," Bushey said. "They learn, and then eventually they become those role models themselves. It's great to see."