JEWELL - A meet within a meet will take place when the girls' Class 2A race takes center stage on Saturday during the Iowa High School Cross Country Championships.
No. 3-ranked Gilbert, No. 7 Collins-Maxwell-Baxter, No. 8 South Hamilton, No. 10 North Polk and No. 14 Roland-Story - what do they all have in common?
OK, that's too easy.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
South Hamilton sophomores Kayla Lucas (left) and Allyson Ervin race side-by-side at the ISU course in Ames during the Gilbert Invitational in August. They’ve consistently been the Hawks’ leaders this year, guiding the team to their second consecutive state meet appearance.
The Heart of Iowa Conference rivals will all be on the course inside Kennedy Park for the scheduled 1 p.m. race. And the fact that they're all so familiar with one another is considered an asset, according to South Hamilton head coach Darrell Paulsen.
"We've run against some pretty good teams in our conference all year and we're looking at that as something to prepare us for this meet," Paulsen said. "I think we've had some pretty good practices this week and the girls are looking forward to it."
South Hamilton - the HOIC runner-up to Gilbert - returns to Lakeside Golf Course, located on the outskirts of Fort Dodge, for the second straight year. The Hawks were 10th in 1A a season ago and five runners - Kayla Lucas, Allyson Ervin, Meghan Fisher, Kali Lucas and Jessica Zoske - return. State newcomers include Rachael Huegerich and Sidney Alsager.
State Cross Country Meet Glance
Race schedule: 4A girls (11 a.m.), 4A boys (11:30 a.m.), 3A girls (Noon), 3A boys (12:30), 2A girls (1:00), 2A boys (1:30), 1A girls (2:00), 1A boys (2:30).
Defending team champions: West Des Moines Dowling (4A), Pella (3A), Monticello (2A), Council Bluffs St. Albert (1A).
Defending individual champions (returning only): Ben Anderson, Sr., West Des Moines Valley (4A).
Top-ranked teams: Dowling (4A), Decorah (3A), Monticello (2A), St. Albert (1A).
Top-ranked individuals: Ben Anderson, Sr., WDM Valley (4A); Isaac Steffensmeier, Sr., Fort Madison (3A); Will Norris, Sr., Spirit Lake (2A); Josh Sindelar, Sr., St. Albert (1A).
Defending team champions: Dowling (4A), Dubuque Wahlert (3A), Unity Christian (2A), Pekin (1A).
Defending individual champions (returning only): Grace Gibbons, So., Dowling; Madison Waymire, Jr., Dallas Center-Grimes (3A); Sadie Timms, Jr., Gilbert (2A); Rebekah Topham, So., Griswold (1A).
Top-ranked teams: Pleasant Valley (4A), Decorah (3A), Cascade (2A), Griswold (1A).
Top-ranked individuals: Stephanie Jenks, Fr., Linn-Mar (4A); Anna Holdiman, Sr., Waverly-Shell Rock (3A); Mariah Kauder, Sr., Cascade (2A); Leah Seivert, Jr., Sibley-Ocheyedan (1A).
The Hawks have bounced around the rankings all season, but that No. 8 spot is what the girls have locked onto this week.
"I asked them what their goals are and they said to try to stay where we're at rankings wise or possibly higher," Paulsen said. "And they also want to improve on what they ran last year time wise."
Kayla Lucas was 34th at the 2011 state meet and she's been the team leader throughout the season. Meghan Fisher (46th) was also a top-50 finisher a season ago.
The weather is expected to be brisk when the meet gets underway with the girls' 4A race at 11 a.m. - something runners haven't had to deal with much during a seasonably warm fall. But Paulsen thinks that could work in his team's favor.
"The girls are looking forward to running in the cold," he said. "They think they run better in the cold."
All eight team champions and five of the individual gold medalists from 2011 will be back looking to defend.
Council Bluffs St. Albert (1A), Monticello (2A), Pella (3A) and West Des Moines Dowling (4A) were the boys' winners.
Pekin (1A), Unity Christian (2A), Dubuque Wahlert (3A) and Dowling (4A) picked up the girls' gold.
Ben Anderson of West Des Moines Valley is the lone returning individual winner on the boys' side. All four girls' champions - Rebekah Topham of Griswold (1A), Sadie Timms of Gilbert (2A), Madison Waymire of Dallas Center-Grimes (3A) and Grace Gibbons of Dowling (4A) - are back.