Depth and experience has the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter cross country teams eyeing state runs in 2014.

Both teams return six runners from a year ago. That includes the top individual runners in state qualifier Mark Deutsch for the boys and talented sophomore Heather Jessen for the girls.

"I’m most excited about the depth of both our boys and girls," CMB head coach Jerry Meinerts said. "I think that we are pretty set with our top five in each. But after that there are about four or five athletes competing for those last two varsity spots. That competition is only going to make us a better team."

Deutsch followed Aaron Ward (2012) as an individual state qualifier for the CMB boys. Now he wants to bring his teammates with him to Fort Dodge.

"These guys are running great," Meinerts said. "We had six guys step up this summer and go to various cross country camps. They’ve put in a lot of miles and are counting down the days until their first opportunity to compete."

Deutsch placed 85th in Class 2A at state with a 5-kilometer time of 18 minutes, 14 seconds. His top time a year ago was 17:22.

"Mark is a running machine," Meinerts said. "He is in way better shape right now than he was at the beginning of last season."

Colin Thomson and Evan Bianchi give CMB strong second and third runners. Thomson ran up with Deutsch a lot last season, peaking with a time of 17:43, and Bianchi is a talented newcomer to the program.

"I look for these guys to work hard and close the gap between them and Mark," Meinerts said.

Also returning for CMB with varsity experience will be Calvin Jones, Eric Hall-Flooden, Drake Caple and Brock Johnston. Max Van Maanen and Carter Fricke join Bianchi as newcomers fighting for a varsity spot.

The CMB girls missed out on making state as a team for the second year in a row last fall. But with the return of all of their top runners from last year, the Raiders aim to put a quick end to that drought.

"They are running about where they were last year at the beginning of the season," Meinerts said. "I look for them to improve greatly as the season rolls along."

Meinerts said Jessen and Anna Jones will be the top two runners for the Raider girls.

"Heather just missed a chance to run at state, so I look for her to work even harder to get there this year," Meinerts said. "Anna is in great shape right now. She put in a lot of summer miles and is running great in practice."

Jessen ran a season-best 4-kilometer time of 16:36 at the 2A qualifying meet in Ames last year to place 13th. Jones’ top time a year ago was 17:44, also at the qualifying meet.

Chasity Moody, Winter Brown and Stephanie Twohey all return with varsity experience and they will battle for the No. 3 spot. Moody ran a 17:09 last year, Brown peaked at 17:12 and Twohey’s top 2013 time was 17:33.

Also back with varsity experience is Chantel Maxwell. Maxwell’s top time a year ago was 18:15.

Meinters said he expects Gilbert to win the Heart of Iowa Conference championship for both the boys and girls, but his teams should be in contention for second place. He said the qualifying meet will be a challenge, especially since the two courses CMB ran on the past few years - Panora and the ISU course in Ames - won’t be available with Gilbert moving up to 3A and Panorama down to 1A.

But the Raider coach still expects both of his squads to make a serious run at state.

"I believe we have two really good teams," Meinerts said. "We will compete for meet titles in some of the two-class meets and will be toward the top three or four spots in the others. By the end of the season, we hope for our girls and boys to run their last meet up in Fort Dodge."

CMB opens the season today at the Gilbert Invitational. The meet will be on the ISU Course and it starts at 4:45 p.m.