GROTON -- Groton-Dunstable cross-country head coach Colleen Naboicheck will tell you that she lost 11 runners to graduation, seven of which routinely placed in the top 10.
But, this year's team has already shown promise with its dedication and tireless preparation in the off-season.
"We came into this season really, really prepared," Naboicheck said. "Three of them did a half-marathon in the summer. Bethany (Fordham), Angelica (Vasquez-Diaz) and Emily (McAuliffe) all did a half-marathon over the summer. Those are my three top runners. "
The Lady Crusaders are ready to compete after taking their first home meet of the season against Marlboro last Tuesday, 21-38. A surprise showed up on the course for Groton-Dunstable in Katie Nash, a soccer player-turned-distance runner.
Emily McAullife won the first race of her career, last week against Marlborough with a time of 22:26 on the 3.1 course behind the high school.
"Katie Nash came over from soccer and is doing great," Naboicheck said. "The rest of my group were my top runners last year. They are in shape and they look great.
Last season, Groton-Dunstable placed fifth in districts, but this year, the sky is the limit for Naboicheck's harriers.
"I really think we will be there again with the group I have," Naboicheck said. "If they stay healthy, they will be there. They are hard workers.
"Our league is tough. We have Nashoba who was first in the districts last year. And, we have Quabbin who didn't loose anybody. They went to the states last year," she said.
Groton-Dunstable does not return back to its home course until Oct. 1, when it faces Quabbin. And, for Naboicheck and the Lady Crusaders, home course advantage is a welcomed luxury.
"We have Quabbin here, which is good," Naboicheck said. "There is nothing better than home course advantage when you are a cross-country runner.
"You know your hills, you know how to run them and you know where to take off and stride out. It is tough when you are away. In districts, there were five points between the third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams, and that is nothing."
McAuliffe was a Central Mass All-Star as a freshman, and Naboicheck expects her to be one again this year.
"She could be the number two runner in the whole league this year," Naboicheck said. "That's what she is setting herself up for. I expect her to be a Central Mass all-star again and reach states. At this point now, she understands how to race. This year, watch for her. She is going to do well."
Captaining the Lady Crusaders is Angelica Vasquez-Diaz. Vasquez-Diaz, or "Gel," as her coach and teammates refer to her, completed a half-marathon over the summer. Returning to the program are Alyssa Gerner, Briana Bozkurt, Annie Gold, Caitlynn Berube and Olivia Schlepphorst.
Newcomers to the program, Jenna Plausse, Sydney Haberman and Nash are already showing promise early in the season.
"Kate Nash came over from soccer and is doing great," the coach said. "The rest of my group aren't my top runners, but they ran all summer. They moved themselves up into a great spot."