CEDAR RAPIDS — You could say that the Cedar Rapids Kennedy girls’ cross country team doesn’t have a truly dominant runner.
Or, you could say the Cougars have four.
In four meets, four different runners have led the Cougars.
“We’re all taking turns, I guess,” said senior Katie Wampole.
Most importantly, four team titles for the unbeaten Cougars, who have climbed all the way to No. 3 in the Class 4A rankings by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches.
“I’m really not surprised,” said Kennedy Coach Mark Jensen. “I know how hard they work. They ran five to six days a week all summer long.”
Wampole, for example, ran 405 miles.
Jensen termed the phrase “smart miles” after the Cougars won their first meet, at Cedar Rapids Prairie, on Aug. 25.
Smart miles doesn’t pertain to the team’s lofty 3.91 cumulative grade point average. Smart miles means productive miles.
“There are three different paces — recovery, tempo and interval,” Jensen said. “Anything between those paces, it’s a gray area.”
And the objective is to avoid the gray area.
“Yeah, that gray area is bad,” Wampole said. “If you’re running too fast or too slow, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”
You never know who might be the first Kennedy runner to cross the finish line at a given meet. But you’re virtually guaranteed that four of them will be close.
Wampole paced the Cougars at the Prairie Invitational, sophomore Lauren Meyer was the leader (and overall champion) at the Bob Brown Invitational in Iowa City, then it was junior Alyssa Averhoff’s turn at the Cedar Rapids Invitational and junior Allison Culver’s gig at the Rich Engel Classic in Cedar Falls.
“Each of them have different strengths,” Jensen said. “Whatever course we’re on, it allows one or more of them to feature their strengths.”
And the gap between the four is consistently shrinking. The margin was 42 seconds in the first meet, then 26 seconds, then 15, then eight.
The proximity in competition allows the Cougars an opportunity for non-verbal communication.
“We don’t say much, but we’ll give each other a little look and we know it’s time to make a move,” Averhoff said.
Jensen offered a brief bio on each of his top four runners:
On Culver: “She was never going to be somebody that was going to break 16 minutes, but then she completely redesigned how she runs. She runs more like a middle-distance runner instead of a marathoner now.”
On Wampole: “She’s a pure runner. She’s there every day, doing what she needs to do.”
On Averhoff: “She never worries about anything. Last year at state, she was eating a granola bar just before she ran, and she didn’t even have her spikes on.”
On Meyer: “She’s just gritty. She’s the least experienced one, but if there’s ever a fire in somebody’s eye, she’s the one.”
For a team to be successful, it takes more than just four. Carolyn Stone has provided a vaulable No. 5, passing three runners down the stretch in an effort that ultimately swung the score in Kennedy’s favor against Iowa City West. And Tara Mittelberg has been a varsity runner in each of the first four meets while the No. 7 spot has rotated.
The Cougars compete in the Eastern Iowa Classic on Thursday at Dubuque. Then, October means crunch time — the MVC Super meet and divisional meet, regionals and state.
Kennedy was 15th at state in 2010, then 12th last year.
“I think we’re definitely a top-three team if we stay healthy,” Jensen said. “You never know when somebody’s going to step in a hole or step off a curb funny.”
What the Cougars really want is a regional-championship pennant.
“We keep getting second (at regionals),” Averhoff said. “We want one of those banners.”
KENNEDY’S LEAD PACK
Results at the Cougars’ first four meets
(CRP: Prairie Invitational; BBI: Bob Brown Invitational; CRI: Cedar Rapids Invitational; CF: Cedar Falls Rich Engel Classic)
|Katie Wampole, sr.||3rd||3rd||11th||5th||5.50||15:13|
|Alyssa Averhoff, jr.||10th||2nd||5th||6th||5.75||15:15|
|Allison Culver, jr.||7th||4th||7th||4th||5.50||15:19|
|Lauren Meyer, soph.||11th||1st||10th||7th||7.25||15:20|