Bailey Welliver was merely a wide-eyed freshman last season, but she didn't fail to notice that the Catalina Foothills girls cross country program was struggling a bit.

Not only did the Falcons experience one of their worst state finishes ever (10th), but much of the team was graduating.

"I wanted our team to be better this year but we were losing a lot of our seniors," she said. "That's where, usually, the strength is in most teams, so it was scary to think that the program might drop back even further.

"I honestly didn't know if we'd be very good this year."

Coach Steve Carney wasn't so sure either.

"I don't think we had any big goals," he said. "We just wanted to run well, be competitive and have fun."

As it turned out, Foothills has been more competitive than anyone could have predicted.

Thanks to four newcomers (three freshmen and a sophomore transfer) the Falcons have turned in several notable performances, including a first-place finish in a race at the touted Desert Twilight Invitational in Gilbert on Sept. 30.

Looking ahead to Saturday's sectional race in Marana, the Star chatted with three of Foothills' top runners to get their thoughts on the season so far and what to expect in the coming two weekends:

The Returner: Bailey Welliver, So.

What has it been like to see so many new girls come in and contribute?

A: "It's really exciting to see all the new people come in and do so well. In the beginning, we were all sort of separate, but it started getting down to the big races and all of our freshmen were really stepping it up. It got really exciting and we all started becoming friends."

How has it felt to perform so well given that expectations weren't very high to begin with?

A: "I feel like no one saw us coming this year. We all just came out and now we're apparently one of the top competitors. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people" at state.

The Newcomer:

Maya Collier, Fr.

Just coming up from middle school, how did you expect to fit into this team?

A: "I thought I was probably going to be somewhere in the middle. I wasn't expecting to have a chance to be on varsity as a freshman. I'm just so glad I've had the chance to be on this team, especially as we're going to grow up and get older and when we're seniors, our team will be really strong."

How does it feel to be part of a program that has had so much success in the past, including a state title in 2005?

A: "I'm really glad that I'm going to have the chance to help bring our team back up to what it once was and make sure that we are a really strong team in the future."

The Transfer: Autumn Brown, So.

Transferring from North Carolina, did you have high expectations for your first year?

A: "I was on varsity last year but my school was 2A and so moving here, it was a much bigger team. I think the goal was just to get on varsity. I didn't have to be first or number one, I just wanted to be on the team. I feel like I've overcome a lot of hurdles and now I have more belief in myself."

How important is it for a program to have such a young, talented team?

A: "Other teams we've competed against, their seniors are usually their best runners. But then they graduate and their team kind of falls off a little bit. As long as we keep getting new, fresh faces in and continue training and making everyone better, the program will remain good for a long time."

State Golf Schedule

Today (opening round)

• Boys: Division I, 10:45 a.m., at Dell Urich; Division II, 10:50 a.m., at Randolph North

• Girls: Division I, 6:45 a.m., at Aguila Golf Course in Laveen; Division II, 11 a.m., at Aguila

Saturday (final round, same sites)

• Boys: Division I and II, 7 a.m.

• Girls: Division I, 11 a.m.; Division II, 7 a.m

Sectional Cross Country Schedule

Today at Freestone Park in Gilbert

• Boys: Division I, 12:30 p.m.

• Girls: Division I, 1:05 p.m.

Saturday at Marana High School

• Girls: Division II, 8:15 a.m.; Division III, 9:45 a.m.; Division IV, 11:15 a.m.

• Boys: Division II, 9 a.m.; Division III, 10:30 a.m.; Division IV, noon