TOP 10 TEAM: Hawks reach goal at state XC meet

FORT DODGE – Kayla Lucas felt some personal disappointment as she attempted to regain some feeling in her legs after pushing herself to the brink of exhaustion on the rolling hills at Lakeside Golf Course on Saturday.

The South Hamilton junior wasn’t satisfied with her 4-kilometer time of 16 minutes, 44.5 seconds and knowing that she left it all out on the course was of little comfort.

“It was an OK day … I thought I was doing a pretty decent job, but then I saw the time when I crossed the finish line,” Lucas said after placing 59th in the Class 1A field of 127 runners at the Iowa State Cross Country Championships. “It’s just so fast here. Everybody here is way faster and none of our meets really prepare you for this.”

But the team player that Lucas is, it didn’t take her long to think big picture. And that’s when the frustration turned into satisfaction.

Lucas might not have had her best race – not according to the clock anyway – but it will still good enough to lead South Hamilton to a top-10 finish, which is precisely what the Hawks had in mind when they toed the starting line.

South Hamilton entered the state meet ranked seventh, but spent the majority of the fall campaign at No. 10 in the poll and 10th is precisely where the Hawks finished with 251 points.

And that was enough to put a smile on Lucas’ face.

“It’s an improvement from last year when we were (14th) in 2A and even being recognized as being one of the top 10 teams in the state is awesome.”

The Hawks might not have challenged at the front of the field, but their gap of one minute from their scoring runners provided the balance they needed to crack the top 10.

“It was definitely a good day overall,” senior Meghan Fisher said after placing 64th in 16:50.6 in her third and final state meet.

Fisher never let Lucas out of her sight, even though the course was littered with runners jockeying for position. The same strategy worked for junior Kali Lucas, senior Kayla Monthei and sophomore Rachael Huegerich; they stuck close to one another over the first half of the race before Kali Lucas and Monthei forged ahead.

Kali Lucas gritted her teeth and pushed through the finish line in 17:19.4 to take 77th, and Monthei wasn’t far back in 81st at the 17:23.5 mark.

Huegerich finished out the scoring by slotting into 93rd in 17:44.3.

Juniors Sarah Rueger (18:06.7) and Allyson Ervin (19:07.5) rounded out the Hawks’ roster in 101st and 121st, respectively.

Head coach Darrell Paulsen was also content with his team’s performance.

“I’m a little happier than I was last year, although I still think we could have run better,” he said. “But they prevailed and I’m happy. I’m proud of them … 10th is where we were ranked all year, so this is what we deserve.”

The pace of the race was pushed from the start by front runners Rebekah Topham of Griswold and Leah Seivert of Sibley-Ocheyedan, as they distanced themselves from the field early on.

Topham, a junior, used a late kick to jump in front and win her third consecutive state title in 13:56.3 – the fastest showing of the day regardless of class. Seivert settled for a fourth consecutive silver medal in 14:10.5.

Topham will attempt to become the first female to ever win four crowns next fall. Mark Johnson of Mason City (1969-72) is the lone male to ever accomplish the feat.

Pekin won its fourth team championship in six years with 81 points, 32 points ahead of second-place Pocahontas Area (113).

Other team champions included Gilbert (2A), Decorah (3A) and West Des Moines Dowling (4A).

Gilbert won its first title since 1989 behind individual gold medalist Grace Gibbons (14:28.6), a junior who is now a two-time state champ after winning the 4A race as a freshman while running for Dowling. The Tigers placed three runners in the top 10 and tallied 59 points. Unity Christian was second with 76.

Decorah and MOC-Floyd Valley both finished with 108 points, but Decorah picked up its sixth overall crown on the strength of the sixth-runner tiebreaker.

Dowling made it three straight championships by nudging Ames by 14 points, 90-104.

Pleasant Valley sophomore McKenzie Yanek (14:00.2) and Pella freshman Tess Roorda (14:36.5) were the 4A and 3A individual winners.