Things are looking good for the Ballard cross country teams heading into the 2014 season as both Bomber squads possess tremendous talent, experience and depth.

"We have 33 boys and 25 girls out this season," Ballard head coach Scott Barth said. "Numerous successful freshmen have moved up from the successful middle school programs and will really be pushing for varsity spots and filling in some of the time gaps we had between running packs last season."

Barth expects both teams to challenge for the Raccoon River Conference championship and make a run at state.

On the girls’ side, Ballard returns two-time individual state qualifier Abby Kohut-Jackson and most of its top runners from a year ago. Combined with strong young talent coming in, the Bombers are poised to make state as a team for the first time since 2010.

Kohut-Jackson is a two-time defending RRC individual champion and she placed in the top 10 individually at state in each of her two varsity seasons. Kohut-Jackson came in fifth at state last year with a 4-kilometer time of 15 minutes, 10 seconds and her fastest time a year ago was 13:39.

"Abby has focused her training this summer and gotten lots of miles in," Barth said. "She can also build on last year’s cross country and track accomplishments."

Joining Kohut-Jackson as the top returning runners for Ballard will be senior Val Charter and junior Ashley Meldrum.

Charter peaked with a time of 16:19 last year and she ran a 16:26 at the state qualifying meet. Meldrum’s fastest 2013 time was 16:18 at the qualifying meet.

Barth said two freshmen - Summer McVicker and Nicole Watters - will also be right up with the front runners for Ballard. The Bomber coach said eight to 10 runners will be competing for the final two varsity spots.

The Ballard boys bring back two individual state qualifiers in seniors Luke Kohut-Jackson and Craig Jordan.

Kohut-Jackson was outstanding last season, placing fourth at the RRC meet, second at the state qualifying meet and 14th at state in 3A. His top 5-kilometer time of 2013 was 16:39 at state.

"Luke has been training all summer and and putting in 40-50 mile weeks pretty regularly," Barth said. "He should be able to build on successful cross country and track seasons last year."

Last fall Jordan came in 15th at the RRC meet, ninth at the qualifying meet and 62nd at state, where he ran a 17:31.

"Craig didn’t put in as many miles as Luke, but we know he has the potential to be a solid runner," Barth said. "He will work his way into shape as he usually does."

There will be a large number of other runners looking to fill the other five varsity spots.

"Luke, Craig and Kyle (Schilling) appear to be our most solid at this point," Barth said. "Freshman Drew Wilken enters after a highly successful middle school career and there are literally another eight to 10 runners that could be in the other spots. It’s highly competitive."

Ballard begins the season next Tuesday (Sept. 2) at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational in Grimes. The meet is set to start at 5 p.m.