CEDAR RAPIDS — Anxiety has surrendered to acceptance.
Cedar Rapids Prairie is the No. 1-rated boys’ cross country team in Class 4A. It’s a fact that the Hawks first wished to avoid, now embrace.
“I had been kind of anxious about it before the rankings came out,” said Coach Bill Schwarz. “Now, we’re having fun with it. It’s something we can definitely use when we have team meetings. I refer to it quite often.”
It’s not a surprise. The Hawks return six runners that competed at the state meet last year, at which they finished second, only three points behind Burlington.
The days of Prairie cross country being a “recreational” program … those days are over — even though the Hawks still play Ultimate Frisbee and embark on Saturday morning Amana runs.
“We still have a lot of fun, but we work hard,” said senior Matt Stocker, the top runner of the group, who noted that many of the seniors ran 600 miles over the summer.
The nucleus of the team joined the program in seventh grade. The Hawks’ breakthrough came in 2008, when they made their first state appearance in decades.
Now, the Hawks are the front runners. Whether they like it or not.
“I think Coach likes us to be the ones that are doing the chasing,” Stocker said. “Being No. 1, it shows we’re a dominant team. On the other hand, there’s some pressure there.”
Five of the six varsity returners are seniors, including two sets of twins — Matt and Kyle Stocker, and Jordan and Justin Burns.
Senior Scott Titler and junior Jacob Aune round out the list of 2009 state competitors.
Prairie hosts an invitational Saturday. And if recent history is a trend, don’t be surprised if they take some knocks early.
“We don’t concentrate as much on the early meets,” said Jordan Burns. “We worry more about the training. At the end of the season, we’ll taper a little bit, then let the work from the summer and the season get us where we want to be.”
“Right now we look healthy, we look strong and we look fast,” Schwarz said. “But we don’t aim to peak until championship season.”
Championship season. That’s the common phrase for the last three weeks, which include Mississippi Valley Conference, district and state meets. And if the Hawks stay healthy and hungry, “championship season” might take on a more literal meaning.