Free State High's track and field team is loaded with familiar faces this season.
There's sophomore tennis state-qualifier Emily Wang, senior basketball/soccer player Katie Rhodes and senior golfer Richie Dunlop.
And that's just among the newcomers.
"Probably the most significant thing for us is that our numbers are way up this year," fourth-year coach Steve Heffernan said. "We had over 90 out the first day, which is about 25 more than we've had out before this time of year. Now we're down into the mid-80s, but that's still our biggest team in four years so that's exciting."
Both Rhodes and Dunlop will be doing double-duty, throwing for the track team and playing soccer and golf respectively.
The Firebirds open their season with an indoor meet Friday at Nebraska Wesleyan, where they feel they have a shot to upend the seven-time undefeated state champion from Kearney, Neb.
"We're looking forward to that," said Heffernan, who's from Kearney. "Those are the types of goals we're going to set for ourselves this year."
Free State's girls squad returns half of its Class 6A state-championship winning 3,200-meter relay team in seniors Jackie Dubois and Joyia Chadwick, who both also were on the 1,600 relay and in the 800. Chadwick was a four-time state qualifier, also advancing in the triple jump.
"Joyia Chadwick should have a really good year in the jumps and the distance," Heffernan said. "Each year she gets better just from the experience. Jackie Dubois put in a really good season of training and ran some during basketball. Right now she's looking really, really good.
"Plus we have a lot of talented sophomores who I think are going to contribute."
The Firebirds' other returning state qualifier is senior pole vaulter Anna Harvey.
State qualifiers on the boys' side are senior Owen Cox (400), junior Nick Ens (3,200 relay), senior Pat Johnson (long jump, 1,600 relay), senior Ariel Ludwig (1,600, 800), senior Tyler Pearce (1,600 relay) and junior Justin White (3,200 relay, 1,600 relay, 800).
"In the 400 on up, we're going to be tough," Heffernan said. "We've got very good depth in everything, too. I think our guys' team is going to be better than we were last year, and last year we finished third in the Sunflower League by eight points."
Heffernan also has high hopes for the boys' 3,200 relay of White, sophomore Adrian Ludwig, Ariel Ludwig and Ens.
"We should have a tremendous 4x400," Heffernan said, "and we have an opportunity in the 4x800 this year to be really special. We have the potential to run 7:50 or better, which would be the second-fastest time in state history."
"A few years ago we were just happy to get to state," Heffernan said. "Now the kids understand that after last year that we're going to do more than just make it to state. We're going to score points at state. We want to put as many state champions up as we can. I think they understand that we can do it now.
"As opposed to just feeling satisfied with being good for here, they want to be good in the state."