XC PREVIEW: No. 10 Hawk girls have 3-peat on the brain

WEBSTER CITY – Wrapping up the season at the state meet has been the norm for the South Hamilton girls’ cross country team in recent years, and the Hawks will be expected to keep the trend intact on Thursday when State Qualifying Meets take place all across the state.

South Hamilton will compete in a Class 1A state qualifier at Eagle Grove Golf Course in Eagle Grove, while Webster City will travel to Swan Lake in Carroll for a 3A meet. Both will get underway with the girls’ race at 4 p.m.

The top three teams and top 10 individuals will advance to next weekend’s state meet, again scheduled to take place at Lakeside Golf Course on the outskirts of Fort Dodge.

The 10th-ranked Hawk girls will be one of the favorites when they tackle a familiar course in search of a third straight trip to state. They’ll be pushed by No. 11-ranked Mason City Newman and runners from 25 other schools, but head coach Darrell Paulsen likes his squad’s position.

Stay the course and the Hawks should be fine.

“I think the girls are excited. I don’t think we have to do anything different. They just have to get out and go and work as hard as they can to stay up front and we’ll be all right,” he said.

Team members Kayla Lucas, Meghan Fisher, MaKayla Monthei, Rachael Huegerich, Kali Lucas, Sarah Rueger and Allyson Fisher have all run the terrain before. In other words, there won’t be any surprises.

“It’s going to help immensely that we’re going up there because we know the course,” Paulsen said. “We’ve been doing a lot of hill work, which is key to the Eagle Grove course.”

After a scary couple of weeks that included stays in multiple hospitals, junior Jacob Heeren is going to give it a go for the Hawk boys’ team. It will be his first competition since the Jim Klein Invitational two weeks ago that ended with him being rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

“If I know anything about Jacob Heeren, he’s going to give it 110 percent,” Paulsen said. “He’s energetic and he wants to run. He doesn’t know if he’s going to do very well, but he’s going to try it.”

Jacob Ratzke, Drake Thompson, Hunter Johnson, Gabe Rueger, Jordan Toillion and Luke Jacoby will also run for the Hawks. They’ll be an underdog against a field that includes No. 3 West Fork, No. 9 North Butler, No. 10 Eagle Grove and No. 15 Algona Bishop Garrigan.

Ten rated individuals will also be in attendance. No. 3 Tiffany Christensen of Eagle Grove is unbeaten this season, while No. 3 Peyton Twedt of West Fork is the top-rated boy.

Webster City’s squads will face an even larger uphill climb at the stacked meet in Carroll. It’s the first time in a number of years where the Lynx aren’t considered a threat in at least one of the races, but that hasn’t stopped head coach Tony Bussan from setting crystal-clear goals for his athletes.

“We want the kids to go out feeling like they gave the best efforts they can because you tend to remember how things ended,” he said. “We told the kids that when we leave Thursday let’s be proud of what we’ve done and let’s leave a legacy for others to build upon.”

Allie Flaws, Courtney Biere, Ashley Flaws, Cassidy Bultena, Gina Moline, Larae Ebrecht and Morgan Shannon make up the Lynx girls’ team. The boys’ runners include Jacob Perin, Brandon Arkland, Adam McMurray, Connor Foster, Seth Crouthamel, Demar Lemus and either Trey Nelson or Jason McVicker.

The Lynx boys’ squad has been hit hard by illness in recent weeks – Bussan himself is under the weather as well – and that leaves the lineup with questions as race-day looms.

“We’re just not real healthy right now,” Bussan said. “Right now it’s a challenge from a motivation standpoint for the kids. Anytime you’re not in a strong position to be in the hunt, that makes it a lot more challenging for the kids to get focused and motivated.”

Elite talent will blanket both races. Top-ranked Boone, No. 4 Algona and No. 10 Heelan lead the boys’ field; No. 4 MOC-Floyd Valley, No. 6 Spencer and No. 15 Heelan are the leading contenders on the girls’ side.

Both races will also feature a bevy of individual standouts. Albert Meier and Chandler Austin of Boone are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, as are Lindsay Joyce of Heelan and Bethany Dykstra of MOC-Floyd Valley.

Austin is the defending state champion and Meier was second last fall. Dykstra was a 2012 bronze medalist.