WEBSTER CITY - Tony Bussan has no problem admitting it: His two-time defending North Central Conference champion Webster City boys' cross country team is no longer the top dog, not in pre-meet hype anyway.
But that doesn't mean his squad is going to simply roll over and offer up the gold trophy on a silver platter.
Nope, it's not going to happen - not in this lifetime.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Seniors Steven Smith (387), Ethan Glenn (370) and Jacob Clabaugh (364) will attempt to lead the Webster City boys’ cross country team to a third straight North Central Conference title today in Algona.
The Lynx will give chase today during the latest installment of the NCC meet at River Road Golf Course in Algona, as they try to track down sixth-ranked (Class 2A) Fort Dodge St. Edmond - a program that has owned WCHS throughout the season.
"We intend to go for it," Bussan said. "What we do in our program is we show up at the conference meet and give our best when it matters the most and, really, we like being in the chase position. The expectations aren't piled on us, they're on St. Edmond, and rightfully so."
St. Edmond has one-upped the Lynx on several occasions this season, but the margin has continually decreased. And Bussan makes no bones about the fact that his squad has thrown together its best performances of the season in recent meets.
What: North Central Conference Cross Country Meet
When: Today, 5 p.m.
Where: River Road Golf Course, Algona
Defending Champions: Humboldt (girls) and Webster City (boys)
"We've been on a really good build since about midseason," he said. "We've seen some real significant progress and we think the trend line is moving up for us big time."
Northeast Hamilton senior Steven Smith will be joined in the Lynx lineup by Jacob Clabaugh, Ethan Glenn, Nick Thilges, Ryan Heinrichs, Nick Olmstead and Kenton Johnston. Clabaugh, Glenn and Thilges were all-conference runners a season ago.
It's the return of Thilges to the lineup that has produced a shot of adrenaline to the group. The de facto leader throughout the preseason, Thilges suffered through a month of cross country misery in which illness dropped him out of the lineup altogether. But he returned to form at last week's Fort Dodge Invite, and the Lynx rally cry ensued.
"Having Nick back is a huge positive for the whole squad," Bussan said. "For him it's a case of where he's not going to be bogged down by expectations, so he's nothing but excited and he's going to go for it. And it's also been a boost to (Glenn and Clabaugh); now they feel like at least part of the old gang is back together again."
St. Edmond has the hammer out front - fifth-ranked Seth Reel, the conference runner-up a season ago. He'll be the overwhelming favorite to win gold on the 5K course today.
Bussan also expects Algona to make a case for the top spot and, who knows, it could come down to a man-to-man battle.
"Algona is a legitimate contender and they have legitimate dreams," Bussan said. "The conference on the boys' side is deeper than it was a year ago."
The Webster City girls' team was fifth in 2011, while senior Morgan Moline was 11th - both good, but better things are expected today.
Moline was an all-NCC runner and state qualifier two seasons ago, and in recent weeks she's shown the tough exterior that brought her those accolades early in her career.
"Morgan's running the fastest she's ever run in recent meets, and she wants to be all-conference again," Bussan said.
Algona enters as the pre-meet pick on the girls' side. Eagle Grove is the only rated team; the Eagles are No. 3 (1A).
"Algona will be the strong team favorite because of their depth overall," Bussan said. "But we're going to go for it and we're not going to back down from anybody. We feel like we can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the conference."
Joining Moline in the lineup will be younger sister, Gina, as well as Courtney Biere, Allie Flaws, Cassidy Bultena, Faith McClain and Brenna Paukert.
Eagle Grove junior Tiffany Christensen - ranked No. 3 in the state's smallest class - is the returning individual gold medalist. She'll be pushed by No. 12 (1A) Erin Reedy of Algona Bishop Garrigan and No. 13 (3A) Samantha Larson of Humboldt when racing gets underway at 5 p.m.