CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the Eastern Hancock girls cross-country team, 2017 is setting up to be a battle of attrition.

Initially, the Royals looked as if they would be returning their entire varsity squad from 2016, but an injury to their top runner has placed her season in doubt.

Junior Taylor Stine, who led the Royals with a 10th-place finish at the sectional in 2016, is out for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to begin the season.

“It’s hard to tell if Taylor will be able to come back,” Royals coach Rex Putt said. “She originally had the injury back in the spring and had worked hard all summer to try and get back, but it looks like it will still be awhile.”

Story continues below gallery

After another runner decided not to participate this season, the Royals are opening the season with only five healthy runners. Two of those are seniors, Liberty Durham and Annie Floyd, who will look to lead the squad during Stine’s absence.

Juniors Makayla Lawl and Grace McCartney, and freshman Bella Witte round out the current healthy Royals roster.

“I’m really proud of McCartney; she suffered a pretty bad burn injury over the summer, but she’s back and ready to go,” Putt said. “And Bella ran in middle school so she is experienced and ready to help us out.”

The Royals have joined the new Mid-Eastern Conference and look to continue their annual goal of becoming team champion.

When asked about how the health of his squad will impact that goal, Putt stated: “It really boils down to just improving in each meet and seeing where we are by the time of the conference meet.”

Dragons look to make a run

NEW PALESTINE — For the New Palestine Dragons girls cross-country team, every day is a chance to compete. After losing only one senior contributor to the varsity squad, the Dragons return a solid seven runners looking to pace the Dragons in 2017.

“This is going to be a real competitive group,” New Palestine coach Chuck Myers said.

Junior Julie Strange and sophomore Haley Richie led the team late last season, with Richie securing an individual semistate berth, but Myers said he believes any of his runners could end up leading the pack come tournament time this year.

Those runners Myers is expecting to ramp up the competition this season are Kendall Mann, Gwenyth Shaw, Grace Voelz, and Sophia Taylor.

“Any of these girls could end up being on top,” Myers said. “Every day in practice I’m not sure who will finish first and who will finish seventh, so the key is going to be how each runner develops.”

With this competitive group, Myers is looking to reclaim the county championship from Greenfield-Central and finish in the top half of the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“We’ve got a pretty good team coming back,” Myers said. “It’s up to the girls to work hard and take it as far as they can.”