EVANSTON — Earning a spot on the Evanston High School boys’ varsity cross country team is not an easy accomplishment.
That is a statement head coach Ryan Berger has said more and more each year since he took over the program in 2010.
The Red Devils have continued to grow and get more competitive in Berger’s eight seasons, and that doesn’t look to change any time soon.
“More and more people want to come out because more and more people see what we’re doing,” Berger said last week at Evanston’s end-of-the-year banquet. “It gets harder and harder to make that varsity team. It’s a hard task to do.”
The Red Devils capped their season on Oct. 21 with a third-place finish at the Class 4A state championship in Sheridan.
Evanston finished with 104 points. Laramie defended its title with 44 and Natrona was second with 89.
The Red Devils entered the season with a state championship on their minds.
“We say that every year,” Berger said. “We set our expectations high. As high as we can. They gave it their all and they came as close as they could and it was a great job.”
Evanston will say that again in 2018.
“A state title is definitely what we’re going to be shooting for next year,” junior Tyrell Halladay said.
The Red Devils will return their top-seven runners from the state tournament next season.
Dawson Crofts (sophomore) and Weston Wiley (junior) led the way for Evanston in 2017 after they became the first duo to earn All-State honors in program history. Crofts took sixth in 16:39.06 while Wiley (junior) was seventh in 16:39.46.
“I think we’re all really confident in our ability to win state next year,” Crofts said.
Halladay will return for his senior year after finishing 12th as a junior in 16:59.41. It was a season filled with illness for Halladay.
“My intestines would swell every time I did something physical,” said Halladay, who was the top finisher for the Red Devils at state as a sophomore in 2015. “There was always some sort of pain in my stomach.”
The pain never fully went away, but Halladay did eventually work his way back into the varsity lineup. He remembers what brought him back.
With a few weeks left in the season, Halladay was approached by assistant coach Nathan Conrad. Conrad showed Halladay where the team was currently positioned and where it could be with Halladay in the mix.
“From that day forward is when I really started saying, ‘OK, no matter how much it hurts, I’m going to be doing this for my team. I don’t care how I do, but I want to see my team succeed,’” Halladay said.
Halladay ended up finishing 12th at state this season in 16:59.41.
Bradshaw Haack and Garrett Berger will also be back as seniors next season. Haack took 27th in 17:27.18 while Berger was 52nd in 18:24.15.
Sophomores Latham Chandler and Logan Hunt will return, as well. Chandler finished 54th at state in 18:32.15 and Hunt was 60th in 18:44.40.
“We definitely have a good shot at taking state next year,” Wiley said. “It won’t be easy. We’ll have to put in the work over the summer and really work hard during the season, too.”
On paper, the Red Devils, who won the first conference title in program history in 2017, are the favorites to win.
Laramie will graduate Albert Steiner and Philip Henry, the first and second-place finishers at state in 2017. Natrona will also graduate three runners from this season.
“We’re very confident going into next year,” Berger said. “I’m really excited to see where these kids can lead the rest of the group. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”