RED WING, Minn. - Red Wing is known for its mesmerizing bluffs and hills carved over centuries along the mighty Mississippi River.
The natural landscape makes for a perfect opportunity for the Red Wing High School cross country team.
"We have a great network of trails that we utilize to get us off the concrete and the asphalt," said boys and girls coach Jesse Nelson. "I think it's an advantage living in Red Wing. No matter where you run, you are eventually going to have to go up a sizeable hill."
It's just one example of the hard work that makes up one of the most popular sports at RWHS. More than 120 students tried out for the team last year. That equates to 8 to 9 percent of the student body.
"We are very proud of the number of kids we have in our program," Nelson said.
Last year under Nelson, who has been with the program for 15 years and the last six as the head coach, the boys won sectionals and advanced to the state meet. They tied for 12th place.
This year they move to the Big 9 Conference. They lost three seniors, but Nelson has high expectations for a team led by seniors Marcus Warrington, Phil Mitchell, Meyer Beckner and junior George Nemanich.
"Year in, year out, we hope to consistently develop good runners. Consistency is what we're going for," Nelson said.
The girls finished fourth in sectionals last year, but Nelson has high hopes for his young team.
Jasmine Armstrong, a 7th grader who qualified for the state meet last season, is back to lead a team Nelson believes has a chance to win at sectionals this time around.
Ask both the boys and the girls teams, and they will say, they are ready for 2014.
"We have a lot of fun, but we work pretty dang hard," Nelson said.