The Belle Plaine girls’ track program is getting stronger on a yearly basis. This season will continue down the same path.

The Tigers welcome back nearly every individual who accounted for their second-place finish in the Class 1A state meet a year ago. They finished 7.5 points behind champion Minneapolis Edison.

“We have a great group of seniors and supporting younger girls on this year’s squad,” Belle Plaine coach Rich Foust said.

His senior class is headed by distance runner Janessa Meuleners, who finished sixth in the 3,200-meter run as a junior. She is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Class 1A cross-country state meet last fall.

“We have a really new team,” Meuleners said. “We have some old and new on this year’s team. We have a wide variety from seventh-graders to seniors.”

The University of North Dakota recruit has high expectations for herself heading into her final prep season.

“I want to place higher than I ever have before in a state meet,” Meuleners said. “I’m really prepared for this season. We have some really good distance runners and sprinters.”

Junior Jenna Gatz headlines the sprinters. She won the 400 with a time of 57.85 seconds and finished ninth in the 100.

Gatz also teamed up with junior Alissa Schultz and sophomore Haley Leger to take sixth place in the 4x400 relay. The fourth member of that squad, Amara Meyer, graduated. Meyer also tied for eighth place in the long jump in the state meet.

“The main strengths of this year’s squad will be strong runners and depth in all the running events from the 100 through the 3,200,” Foust said. “Our relays should be deep and will have a chance of doing very well this season.”

He also has an excellent pole vaulter in junior Bridget Egan. She was the runner-up in the event in last year’s state meet. Her sister, senior Shannon, took ninth place in the event.

“Pole vault and long jump will be a strength, too,” Foust said. “We will have some holes to fill in the other field events and hurdle events due to graduation.”

That shouldn’t keep the Tigers from making a run at their 11th consecutive Minnesota River Conference championship.

“Winning the conference is kind of expected now,” Meuleners said. “It’s always a confidence booster for us.”

Meuleners would like nothing better than to see that confidence lead to another appearance in the Class 2A True Team state meet. The Tigers haven’t qualified for that meet since finishing seventh in 2012.

“I really want us to get back to the True Team state meet,” Meuleners said. “I really want us to do the best that we can this year.”

Meuleners is quick to credit the team’s success throughout the years to its coaching staff.

“Our success is all about our coach-to-athlete ratio,” Meuleners said. “They do a good job working with everybody, and make the sport fun for all of us.”