Pat Wagner coaching era begins for Kee cross country with start of 2015 season

The Kee cross country program will see a new face at the coaching helm for the first time in four decades, but a familiar face to most Kee High School student athletes. After veteran coach Gary Bottorff retired following completion of the 2014 cross country season, fellow veteran and multi-sport coach Pat Wagner has taken the reins of the Kee distance running program, bringing with him an abundance of coaching experience in a number of different sports.
“At the various schools I have been at I have coached many sports - boys and girls basketball, baseball, track, volleyball, and I even coached girls tennis one spring at Clear Lake, so my coaching experience is quite diverse,” Coach Wagner said. “I have coached plenty of track, and currently I am the junior high boys coach here at Eastern Allamakee and my strong suit is probably conditioning and distance running. In the past eight to 10 years I have gotten into fitness more myself and see the value of running to stay in shape. Gary Bottorff built a good program here, a program that I was a part of, so when he chose to retire I decided I would like to step in and take on a new challenge.”
Greeting Coach Wagner is a limited number of 10 total runners in grades seven through 12, with just six boys and one girl being of high school age. “I am hoping to pick up a couple more when school starts,” Coach Wagner said of his team’s participation numbers. “Obviously, the numbers are low, but the early practices have been good. I am looking forward to see how they run in a competitive situation.”
Among the six high school boys reporting for duty thus far are three returning letterwinners in the junior trio of Spencer Colsch, Mikey Mitchell and last season’s leading front-runner Evan Whalen. Sophomore Jack Mooney and freshmen Jacob Berns and Ryan Whalen round out the current list of high school boys, with sophomore Nicki Wood being the lone high school girl participating so far this season for the Hawks.
“The three junior boys are all returning letterwinners,” Coach Wagner said. “Along with Nicki Wood, they will be good role models for the younger athletes. Spencer Colsch has shown good improvement in the early practices and Mikey Mitchell is dedicated and enthusiastic.  Evan Whalen has come in to the season in good shape, I look for him to be highly competitive in our meets. Nicki Wood is such a good high school athlete that I believe she will have a solid season.”
Rounding out this season’s Kee cross country program will be a trio of junior high competitors. Makayla Peters and Rachel Walleser are both listed as eighth grade competitors, with Chris Wagner listed as the lone seventh grader.
With this season’s low numbers being the greatest challenge for this year’s distance Hawks, Coach Wagner also sees the silver lining in that limited cloud. “The people we have out are people who want to succeed,” he explained. “With a small squad, team camaraderie plays a big role in the success of the team. Our main weakness is lack of numbers. There are a handful of students walking the halls of Kee High who are not out for a fall sport who could help the team and would benefit from being a part of it. As of now, we have just enough boys to count in team scoring. However, another strength is that despite the low turn-out, we have 10 people who want to be part of the group.”
The Hawk boys graduated about as many seniors from last fall’s program as they have total runners this season, as Sam Hisel, Tom Brennan, Keegan Ahouse, Michael Harris and Nolan Welsh all graduated from last year’s squad, with all of them being multi-year contributors. “The 10th and 11th graders will have to act as senior leaders for the seventh, eighth and ninth graders,” Coach Wagner said.
No matter how many participants he may have, Coach Wagner sees the keys to the Kee cross country season as being very similar. “Staying positive and seeking improvement on a daily basis, that is the measuring stick for our success,” he said. “This is a mental toughness sport as much as anything, if we all stay focused on getting better each day we will have a good season. We’ll work hard and have some fun along the way.”
Within those keys to success for this season, Coach Wagner also has some general goals for his charges, acknowledging that his first year at the Kee cross country helm doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of specifics for team goals this early in the season. “As a coach new to the sport I am not really sure what our goals should be except that we go out and make our best effort and have a good attitude every day,” Coach Wagner said. “We must always represent our school in an appropriate manner. I think Kee High’s runners will do that.”
The distance Hawks will, once again, be competing against some of the top runners in the state of Iowa this season, right within their own Upper Iowa Conference. “I know Central and South Winneshiek’s programs have been strong, and I know that Turkey Valley has a returning girl who placed in the top five at State last season,” Coach Wagner said.
Kee was scheduled for its first competition this season Tuesday, August 25 at the Edgewood-Colesburg Invitational. The Hawks will then compete Thursday, September 3 at MFL/MarMac.