3-PEAT! Hawk girls win title, head back to state

EAGLE GROVE – Always the pessimist, South Hamilton cross country coach Darrell Paulsen had himself convinced his girls’ team ran well, just not well enough to bring home a championship banner from yesterday’s Class 1A State Qualifying Meet at the Eagle Grove Golf Course.

As it turned out, Paulsen wasn’t just wrong. He was way wrong.

Depth up and down the lineup proved to be the deciding factor for the dominant 10th-ranked Hawks, as they placed all five scorers in the top 24 and slayed the beast of a course to win the team title convincingly and advance to their third straight state meet next week at Lakeside Golf Course on the outskirts of Fort Dodge.

South Hamilton finished with 69 points and toppled runner-up and 15th-ranked North Iowa (99) by 30 points. No. 11 Mason City Newman (116) claimed the third state-qualifying spot.

“(Paulsen) tries not to get our hopes up,” senior Kayla Monthei said. “He wanted us to win for sure, but he wanted to keep us low key, too.”

But it really wasn’t just a ploy, was it coach?

“I really didn’t think we won it,” Paulsen admitted. “But I was proud of the way the girls ran … they went out and did what they needed to do just like they have all season.”

Monthei will be the only state-meet rookie. Kayla Lucas, Meghan Fisher, Kali Lucas and Allyson Ervin will all compete in their third state race; Rachael Huegerich and Sarah Rueger will make their second appearances.

“I’m really excited to go back and it’s awesome to have a three-peat,” Fisher, the other senior on the squad, said. “We really weren’t focused on getting first place, but getting first is just like icing on the cake. We love it.”

The hilly terrain – it features a monstrous climb at the mile-and-a-half mark that left many competitors grimacing in pain once they finally reached the top – didn’t seem to bother the Hawks. After Kayla Lucas took the team lead early on, the remainder of the group packed up and the result was a sea of dark red uniforms crossing the finish line in close proximity.

“This is the most mental course we’ve ran,” Monthei said. “You really have to compete with yourself out there, so this is awesome.”

Kayla Lucas qualified as an individual as well by taking seventh in 16:41.38 on the 4-kilometer course. She opened the first mile in the top 15 and steadily picked off runners over the final mile.

Fisher (17:24.63), Kali Lucas (17:33.68) and Monthei (17:39.22) placed 15th, 17th and 19th. The big surprise was Sarah Rueger (18:00.39), who cemented the rout when she crossed in 24th.

Newman placed two runners in the top-six and North Iowa had one, but both squads also had to count a pair of runners that finished 37th or higher.

“We had a better pack,” Paulsen said. “At the finish line it was one right after another.”

Eagle Grove senior Tiffany Christensen made no effort to give her adversaries a chance to contend for individual gold. She left the field in her dust during the first mile and then sprinted the final 200 meters as the crowd roared to win in 15:09.13. Runner-up Oksana Convey of Des Moines Christian was 1 minute, 25 seconds behind.

SH boys 9th

After a two-week layoff and a health scare that included multiple hospital stays, Hawks’ junior Jacob Heeren valiantly returned to the course and finished 25th in 18:12.14 to guide the team to a ninth-place finish with 236 points.

Heeren ran in eighth place near the midpoint of the 5-kilometer jaunt, but eventually backed off when the rest of the leaders pushed the pace.

“Jacob gave it everything he had,” Paulsen said. “He’s not at full strength and just being out there says something about him.”

Freshmen Hunter Johnson (50th, 19:04.95) and Drake Thompson (54th, 19:10.22) put together strong runs for the Hawks. Jacob Ratzke (56th, 19:19.64) blazed by a number of runners down the stretch, and another rookie Gabe Rueger (60th, 19:26.29) closed out the scoring.

“I’m happy for the boys, too,” Paulsen said. “We’ve got a young team and it sounds like they’re going to be working for next year.”

No. 2-ranked West Fork (64 points), Algona Bishop Garrigan (113) and No. 9 Eagle Grove (130) notched the boys’ state-meet berths. West Fork’s Peyton Twedt (16:44.53) was the individual champion.