The cross country teams at Lejeune High School are ready to make a run at a fifth-straight 1A East Regional title this fall.

According to NCRunners’ MileSplit Cross Country Rankings, Lejeune’s boys’ team is the frontrunner in the region and a top-five 1A team in the state based on the returning runners’ times from last season. The girls’ team is second in the 1A East Region and a top-12 team in the state, per the rankings.

“The guys’ team has historically been really strong,” said Bronwyn Schwend, LHS cross country head coach. “The girls’ team ends up being really strong, it’s just that on paper, for whatever reason, the women’s team doesn’t look as strong as the men, but they show up when it’s time, when it matters.”

The boys will expect big things out of sophomore Tyler Shelton, junior Nicholas Presley and senior Noah Tungett. All three had top-10 finishes at last fall’s regional with Presley taking fourth, Shelton fifth and Tungett seventh.

“The three of those guys are really strong runners,” said Amanda Tungett, an assistant coach. “All three of them, especially Nicholas and Tyler, they’re just machines.”

The boys will also get an added boost in depth from spring track athletes like Ryan Miller, Niklas Cooper and Tyler Gilman among others.

“We have all these talented guys that came from track that are now running cross country,” Tungett said. “They all went to state with an event in track, so just to see them coming here and seeing what they are going to do with this distance is really exciting.”

Though he knows that the bar has been set high for this season, Tungett thinks that his team has a good shot of getting on the podium at states, even if there is some pressure involved.

“There will always be this unnerving pressure right when you’re on the starting line, but I have full trust in the guys around me that we will be able to pull through as well as uphold the standards that our parents expect from us, our team expects and our school,” Tungett said, who has ran cross country at LHS all four years.

On the girls’ side, senior Taylor Pound is expected to lead the way following a fourth-place finish at last fall’s regional. Senior Abigail Paquin also brings experience to the girls’ team which will lean on juniors Elizabeth Schwend and Emalee Reynolds for good performances as well.

Both the Lejeune boys and girls will rely on their team’s camaraderie to carry them again this fall.

“This team is really unique,” Pound said, who is entering her fourth year running cross country for Lejeune. “There aren’t many teams like this around the world because we are such a close-knit group of people.”

Pound also credits the team’s bond as being a major key to success during its streak of regional titles.

“I have to run my best because everyone is counting on me,” Pound said of the group’s team mentality. “You’re running for the team. It’s an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport.”

Presley seconds the notion that the family aspect of the team has helped LHS cross country reach success and sustain it.

“In track, there are different events and everybody goes through different training, but in cross country we are all out here doing [the same thing],” Presley said, who took gold in the two-mile at the regional track meet this past spring. “We are all out here struggling to get through it together. It’s a second family.”

Coach Schwend’s goals for this year’s teams are to win regionals again and claim a fifth-straight title. At states, Schwend would love to see the boys on the podium and the girls break into the top five.

The success the program has been having, Schwend says, is a testament to the work the student-athletes have put in.

“We get the best of the best out here,” Schwend said. “We get the kids who are driven, who want to be successful and who want to be a part of this family. They are so close, all of the kids, and they just want to do well for the team and continue that legacy.”

When it comes to the DNA makeup of the Devil Pups’ distance runners, they just don’t seem to have a slacker gene in them.

“I don’t think they know how to not be successful,” Schwend said, who also touched on the team’s impressive grades in the classroom. “I don’t think they know how to come out here and not push themselves.”

A fifth regional title in as many years would be quite the accomplishment for a school with less than 400 students, a couple hundred fewer than the next smallest school in the Coastal 8 1A/2A Conference. Somehow LHS does more with less, and this cross country season will be no different due to the work ethic, camaraderie and tradition that has been established.

LHS Cross Country Schedule

8/19 @ Pamlico, 6 p.m.

8/27 @ Croatan, 5 p.m.

9/4 @ Pender, 5 p.m.

9/6 @ Olsen Park, 4 p.m.

9/10 @ East Carteret, 5 p.m.

9/17 @ Trask, 5 p.m.

9/21 @ Northeast Creek, 8 a.m.

9/24 @ Dixon, 5 p.m.

9/25 @ Northside Pinetown, 4 p.m.

10/1 @ Dixon, 5 p.m.

10/8 @ Lejeune, 5 p.m.

10/12 @ Ivey Redmon Park, 8 a.m.

10/15 @ Croatan, 5 p.m.

10/22 @ Conference Championship @ Croatan, 3 p.m.

11/2 @ Regionals

11/9 @ States