There is plenty of optimism when it comes to the loaded Hudson girls cross country team.
As one of the youngest squads to qualify for the Division I state meet a year ago, the Explorers return a boatload of runners from a unit that placed ninth in Ohio, won a district title and finished sixth in the deep Youngstown regional.
The cupboard is overflowing this season and third-year head coach Megan Petraska wasn’t shy about praising her club — on and off the course.
"I think the girls are very excited," she said. "They are working extremely hard and are looking forward to seeing their hard work pay off."
Hudson, which won five invitationals in 2018, lost one senior to graduation — Katarina Palmman.
Make no mistake about it, though, the 2019 version of the Explorers is absolutely stacked.
"We are already so proud of our girls' determination to be the best runners and women they can be," Petraska said. "I have always loved that cross country imitates life in that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it and the girls have certainly been putting their full effort into the season thus far."
One could make the argument that the Explorers have one of the top junior classes in all of Ohio.
Leading the way is Emmaline Hannan, who earned All-Ohio honors after placing 19th at the 2018 state meet.
Hannan’s partner in crime is Brenna Beucler, who placed 32nd at the state competition. Beucler also finished eighth in the 1,600-meter race at the Division I state track and field meet during the spring.
Other standout juniors are Sydney Gallagher, Sarah Weldon, Jordyn Hopgood, Riley Gaynor and Caroline Groff.
Returning seniors include Nicole Jurado, Subi Simmons and Amy Fulton.
The rest of the returning runners are sophomores Sofia Bogoniewski and Ali Menendez.
"Brenna, Emma, Sydney, Sarah, Nicole and Subi ran at the state cross country meet for us last year while Sarah, Emma, Sydney, and Jordyn were all regional qualifiers in track," Petraska said. "Riley was a district qualifier.
"We look forward to more success from these girls this season."
Petraska has 10 seniors on her roster. She will be leaning on their wisdom throughout the season.
The rest of the senior class features Josie Cartella, Lily Edwards, Allison Katitus, Erin Morgan, Makenna Rickey, Megan Smith and Madison Yerkey.
"We have 10 phenomenal seniors who have shown outstanding leadership so far and many have been on the team all four years," Petraska said. "Our seniors are the heartbeat of the program.
"From our silent leaders to our more vocal ones, they carry our team and have done an excellent job setting an example for their teammates and showing them what it means to be a good runner and a great woman, which is always our hope for each runner."
Petraska welcomes a plethora of talented newcomers as well, including juniors Emily Ritenour and Kate Koenncke; sophomore Story Jones; and freshmen Grace Thorpe, Lena Clemens and Eve Jones.
"With the newcomers, we are very excited to see what these girls can do and they have already made such a positive impact on our team," Petraska said. "They bring so much to the table in terms of expertise and support."
Petraska’s assistants are Casey Feitshans and Eric Standley.
The loaded Suburban League National Conference will be part of the Explorers’ first challenge this year. Hudson was the runner-up to Wadsworth last season.
"Our goal is always to be better than we were the previous year," Petraska said. "In our conference, Wadsworth will be tough to beat and Twinsburg is always strong. We are excited to compete against these great teams.
"They are working hard to get better every day in practice. The girls refuse to run only on talent and they know that their hard work has paid off in past seasons, which makes them want to work even harder this season."
Petraska will push her runners to reach their full potential throughout the fall. She also plans to enjoy every moment she spends with her gifted, well-rounded teenagers.
"These kids are kind, polite, honest, responsible, possess a growth mindset and always work to reach their full potential," Petraska said.
"They hold each other accountable both academically and athletically and they have bought into our program and our collective team goals."
There is no doubt the Explorers are aiming for lofty goals this fall. At the same time, though, Petraska is urging her gifted runners not to get too far ahead of themselves.
"This year, we are really focused on the idea of progress over perfection," Petraska said. "We want our runners to know that they do not need to be perfect, especially with all the societal pressures put on young women to be perfect, but rather that they just need to work on progressing toward becoming their best selves every day."
Hudson is scheduled to make its 2019 debut at the GlenOak Golden Eagle Invitational Saturday in Canton. The race is set to begin at 10:10 a.m.