The clock read 9:19 a.m. as the Wayzata girls’ cross-country team, defending state and national champion, burst from a standstill to tackle runs of distances covering 3 to 6 miles.

Not long after this unofficial start to the season, coach Dave Emmans, recently named the sport’s national high school coach of the year, noticed fewer faces joining him on the 3-mile run.

This was a good thing.

There are 130 runners out for cross-country, the largest number in Emmans’ 22 years at Wayzata. But the quantity impressed Emmans less than the quality. Given a mileage option for the first day of practice, most Trojans runners challenged themselves. Emmans expected to be joined by 30 runners on the short route. There was about half that number.

“It was absolutely our best first day ever,” Emmans said.

Graduation claimed four of Wayzata’s top seven runners, leaving varsity spots many seek to fill. Senior Anna French noticed increased dedication during summer workouts.

“The volume a lot of them did in the summer was pretty incredible, so much more than they’ve done before,” French said.

Both the girls’ and boys’ programs won Class 2A state championships last fall. Both entered this season ranked No. 1 in coaches polls. But Emmans did not thrust tradition and expectation upon his runners.

After completing the morning workout, the Trojans headed inside the school for what Emmans called “our most important meeting of the year.” Throughout an hour of talk and motivational videos, Emmans mentioned the need to find meaning and purpose, encouraging runners to find their overall potential.

He mentioned Wayzata’s national champion status just once.

“I wasn’t trying to make it a goal to mention it or not to mention it,” Emmans said. “I just think we’ve gotten to the point that if we’re not meeting the individual needs of the kids, we’ll never get to those big team goals.”