The experience will be new for many on the boys side. Girls participants have built more tradition.
But regardless of how they got there, anything seems possible for western Iowa’s Class 3-A representatives running in Saturday’s state cross country meet.
Shenandoah/Essex is hoping its perfect season continues in the 12:30 p.m. boys race at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The Mustangs, rated No. 4 in the state, captured their first state-qualifying meet Monday in 18 years and own nine meet wins in as many tries this fall.
Coach Andy Campbell said the three schools rated highest — Decorah, Sioux City Heelan and Pella — figure to be tough competition. But placing in the top half of the 15-team field is a good baseline to shoot for.
“The highest we’ve finished since I’ve been coaching is eighth, so I think I’m going to tell the guys that,” Campbell said. “They’ve been all about setting new standards for our program this year, and hopefully they keep it going.”
Senior Sean Skillern, rated No. 15, brings the rest of his Shenandoah/Essex team to state after finishing 21st individually last season. Senior Zac McCoy, rated No. 23, is making his Fort Dodge debut.
Heelan’s Alec DeVries, at No. 6, is western Iowa’s top-rated 3-A boy.
The area’s girls teams carry a more veteran presence into their final race, set for noon. No. 10 Harlan Community will make its ninth straight state appearance, while No. 4 Sioux City Heelan arrives for a sixth consecutive time.
Harlan is again led by Jessica Feldman, a senior rated No. 9 in her class. Sophomore Marissa Klindt took eighth at Monday’s state qualifying meet, while one of Harlan’s other top runners, junior Bailey Kuhl, is set to return after tying up in that race.
The Cyclones finished 11th a year ago, with Feldman crossing 23rd overall. They’re looking for improvements on both fronts this weekend.
“Our goals are high,” Harlan coach Doug Renkly said. “I’m not going to stick a number, but we look around the state and feel like we are able to run with most of the teams who will be there. For the most part, I feel like this year’s state meet will be wide open, third through 10th.”
Shenandoah/Essex, rated No. 11, also advanced on the girls side. Its top runner, junior Megan Hart, placed 66th individually last year while the team ended in 13th. Five of the school’s top six runners from that group are back.
Qualifying individually is Creston sophomore Maria Mostek, rated No. 30, along with Atlantic freshman Tiffany Williams.
Glenwood senior Jeff Reeve and Harlan juniors Philip Sciranko and Chris Brace are set to run for the boys.
Three western Iowa members will run in Class 2-A. For the girls, Missouri Valley senior Breezy Weaver makes her fourth state trip after finishing 34th last year. OA-BCIG sophomore Bailey Hare will try to improve upon her seventh-place showing in 2011.
Western Iowa state qualifiers:
Boys teams: Sioux City Heelan, Shenandoah/Essex. Boys individuals: Sean Skillern, Shen/Essex; Zac McCoy, Shen/Essex; Philip Sciranko, Harlan; Chris Brace, Harlan; Jeff Reeve, Glenwood.
Girls teams: Sioux City Heelan, Harlan Community, Shenandoah/Essex. Girls individuals: Maria Mostek, Creston; Tiffany Williams, Atlantic; Lindsay Joyce, Heelan; Carson Leiting, Heelan; Jessica Feldman, Harlan; Marissa Klindt, Harlan; Megan Hart, Shen/Essex.
Boys teams: None. Boys individuals: Josh Sunberg, Red Oak. Girls teams: None. Girls individuals: Breezy Weaver, Missouri Valley; Bailey Hare, OA-BCIG.