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It’s the morning before the Rosemount boys’ cross-country team’s opening competition and energy is high as runners spill onto the track for an 8 a.m. pre-meet practice.

Stretching, smiles and small talk fill the laid-back atmosphere.

“They love pre-meet,” said Irish coach Chris Harder, who is entering his 20th season, as his runners began what was to be a light practice, saving their legs for the season’s first invitational. “It’s just a short workout for these guys, and it gets them feeling good.”

But senior Travis Lorch knows there is a time for small talk and a time for work, and a practice led by him is no light matter, even a pre-meet. It’s an attitude the upperclassman feels he must display if he hopes to get himself and his teammates back to last season’s state meet form. The team placed 13th in Class 2A.

With a swift slap to his wristwatch, which sparks a piercing beep, Lorch, followed by his Irish teammates, begin practice. He’s a “leader by example,” Harder said, and pre-meets are no exception.

“Our seniors have a really good work ethic,” sophomore Luke Labatte said. “They always go the extra mile and just pull me along with them, and I’m getting pushed to be my best.”

Rosemount returns five of its top runners from last season, including Labatte. Lorch finished 11th in the Class 2A, Section 3 meet last season. He is poised to crack the top 10 come late October. Fellow senior Jonathan Meaden finished 15th.

Labatte carried his momentum from the fall into the spring track and field season and broke freshman records in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

This offseason Labatte ramped up his training by running longer distances than he did last summer and doubling the number of times he worked out a week, he said.

Running alongside his Irish teammates, Labatte also had last year’s top Irish runner, Zaffer Hussein, pushing him during the warm summer runs.

“[Labatte] is a really talented kid,” Hussein said. “With hard work, he could reach an elite level because you rarely see freshmen running a 4:30 mile or breaking 10 [minutes] in the two-mile. He could be up there in state at the end of the year.”

As a graduated senior now on the outside, Zaffer said he noticed how in sync this year’s squad is. During the offseason practices, it was clear runners were putting team results over their own personal goals.

When the Irish go for a run, they run together — something Zaffer said isn’t always commonplace on a team with lots of returning talent. Sometimes top guys leave newcomers behind but seniors Meaden and Lorch know the team is more important than their individual times.

Rosemount hosted the Irish Invitational on Sept. 2. Harder said the meet went well based on his runners’ ability to improve their times on a course they ran just weeks earlier at their alumni race.

The Irish also broke out new uniforms at the meet. Runners now don an Irish green rather than the Vegas gold and blue combination Rosemount wore for over a decade.

A new season premiering with new jerseys doesn’t alter Harder’s expectations and requires the same focus and mentality Lorch embodies in his pre-practice demeanor.

“This is a work ethic sport,” Lorch said. “If you put forth the effort, it would come back in return. If you tell yourself you can do this, then you will be successful.”