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From left. Monticello juniors Holden Miller, Luke Sokolowski, Morgan Dixon and Josh Baysore take a break at a recent practice. The quartet are all key returnees for the Sages who are looking to fare even better in 2019 after placing third in state last year.

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MONTICELLO — There’s no time to “goof off,” according to Monticello junior Holden Miller.

Not after Miller and the rest of his Sages’ boys’ cross-country pals finished 50 points behind 2018 Class 1A state champion Clifton Central, winding up in third place as consolation.

“We have to be more serious this year, because we have people gunning for us and we’re gunning for people,” Miller said. “So we really have to kick it in and just stay on top.”

If there’s one spot for levity among this Monticello bunch, however, it’s in clothing.

At a workout last week, fellow junior Luke Sokolowski sported bright-red shorts with bananas printed all across.

Might as well wear them now, since Sokolowski wouldn’t have that option at the 1A state meet.

Plenty of positives existed for coach Dave Remmert’s Sages in last year’s race through Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

In addition to now-graduated Garrett Dixon earning runner-up status, four of Monticello’s seven state racers were 10th-graders.

And all of them return.

“It’s almost anyone’s game when it comes to the state meet,” junior Morgan Dixon said. “Almost anyone can win because a lot can happen in that meet.”

The goal before reaching that stage, then, is for the Sages to put themselves in the best position to capitalize on that reality.

Part of that comes from accepting lessons handed down by Garrett Dixon, one of just two 1A boys to break the 15-minute barrier at the 2018 state meet.

“Garrett was a pretty good example of what we could be and what we should be,” Sokolowski said. “He was pretty serious about it the whole time around and he finished second place, which is amazing.”

Putting in the necessary pre- and early-season distance also is required. To that end, Sokolowski said, some of the Sages recorded 60-70 miles per week this summer. Then there’s prior knowledge of success — and not just at the prep level.

Sokolowski, Morgan Dixon and junior Josh Baysore were the top three finishers for Monticello Middle School’s 11th-place outfit in the 2016 IESA 2A race.

“We all knew what we were doing. We were all serious. We were focused. We knew we wanted it,” Baysore said. “So we had pretty high expectations for ourselves coming into high school. We still hold those expectations.”

Aiding them is Remmert. The sixth-year Sages’ coach has guided his boys to a state trophy three times, including a state title in 2015.

Before meets, Sokolowski said, Remmert will provide his athletes with packets containing information about what to expect on a given day. They include text personalized toward each runner.

This combination of factors gives Monticello a fair chance to reach the top of the 1A mountain, even in a potentially loaded field going into the 2019 season.

Reigning titlist Clifton Central utilized just one senior at last season’s state showcase. Second-place Elmwood rolled with two upperclassmen, and fifth-place Uni High didn’t deploy any.

None of what surrounds the Sages is causing them to limit their sights.

“I’m not going to go for second this year,” Sokolowski said. “We got third last year, and I just want to raise the bar even higher.”

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).