A primer on the state cross country meet Saturday at Lakeside Golf Course, Fort Dodge:
CLASS 4A GIRLS
Time — 11 a.m.
Runners to watch — A freshman (Grace Gibbons of West Des Moines Dowling) won this race last year, and it’s likely that another ninth-grader will succeed her. Stephanie Jenks of Linn-Mar has been untouchable all season, and ran in 14:00 at the Marshalltown regional, finishing 44 second ahead of Cedar Falls’ Allison Gregg, last year’s third-place finisher. Gibbons was edged by teammate Karissa Schweizer at the Carroll regional. Iowa City West’s Ashlynn Yokom has enjoyed a standout junior season — she ran 14:34 and won by 38 seconds at Cedar Rapids.
Teams to watch — The consensus is that Pleasant Valley is a prohibitive favorite, but there are six excellent teams out there, five from the Mississippi Valley Conference. Cedar Rapids Kennedy has enjoyed its best season ever, winning its first MVC divisional title and its first regional crown. The Cougars, Linn-Mar, Iowa City West and Iowa City High all are in the mix for a top-three finish, but there is no room for error for any of them. And don’t discount defending champion West Des Moines Dowling.
How they’ll finish — 1. Pleasant Valley, 2. Linn-Mar, 3. Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 4. West Des Moines Dowling, 5. Iowa City West.
CLASS 4A BOYS
Time — 11:30 a.m.
Runners to watch — Defending champion Ben Anderson of West Des Moines Valley is back for his senior run; he motored through the Lakeside course in 15:01 last year. Anderson captured the Waukee district title last week. Runner-up Josh Evans of Linn-Mar missed a good chunk of the season to injury, but returned for districts and finished a solid second at Marshalltown. Iowa City High’s Brook Price was fifth last year and was the Cedar Rapids district champion. West Des Moines Dowling went 1-2-3 at the Carroll district, led by Jason Thomas.
Teams to watch — West Des Moines Dowling returns five of seven runners from last year’s championship team, and a 1-2-3-5-9 finish at the Carroll district does nothing but enhance the Maroons’ aura as heavy favorites. The Mississippi Valley Conference had as many as nine teams ranked in the final top 15, and seven of them are in the 4A state field. Iowa City High has its best team in a while, and the Little Hawks join Linn-Mar and Iowa City West as teams with legitimate hopes of bringing home a top-three trophy.
How they’ll finish — 1. West Des Moines Dowling, 2. Iowa City High, 3. Linn-Mar, 4. Pleasant Valley, 5. Iowa City West.
CLASS 3A GIRLS
Time — Noon
Runners to watch — The top three runners are back from last year, and all of them are capable of capturing the crown. Dallas Center-Grimes’ Madison Waymire ran away from the pack last year, while Solon’s Lauren Benzing was second last year after winning the 2A title in 2010. The favorite this time might be Anna Holdiman of Waverly-Shell Rock, who blasted through the Waverly regional in 14:01, nearly a minute and a half ahead of the field. Gabi Meirick of Pella was fifth last year and is the most likely candidate to stay with the aforementioned trio.
Teams to watch — They don’t have a runner who will contend for an individual title, but if you like depth and balance, the Decorah Vikings are your team. Led by Gara Lonning, Decorah ran 4-6-7-8-9 to roll to a 53-point advantage over defending champ Dubuque Wahlert at the Waverly regional. Davenport Assumption was impressive at the Center Junction regional, placing four runners in the top nine and beating Solon by 23 points. The Spartans have an excellent 1-2 attack in Benzing and Alex Smith, and can enter the picture if their next three runners move up at Fort Dodge.
How they’ll finish — 1. Decorah, 2. Davenport Assumption, 3. Solon, 4. Pella, 5. Dubuque Wahlert.
CLASS 3A BOYS
Time — 12:30 p.m.
Runners to watch — It’s a wide-open field that may present close to a dozen contenders. Boone’s Chandler Austin is the top returner — he was fourth last year — but was outrun by teammate Albert Meier at the Atlantic district. Fort Madison’s Isaac Steffensmeier rolled up an impressive 48-second margin of victory at the Center Juntion district. He was 18th last year. Other district champs were Wick Cunningham of Knoxville, Alec DeVries of Sioux City Heelan and Kyle Hosting, one of three Decorah frontrunners (Thomas Knobbe and Patrick Larson are the others).
Teams to watch — With its top four runners back from a runner-up team last year, Decorah entered the season as the clear-cut favorite. And that’s what the Vikings remain after posting a 29-point total at Center Junction. With Hosting, Knobbe and Larson, the Vikings have three potential top-10 runners. Sioux City Heelan was the Spencer district champion by 52 points while defending champion Pella ran up a 46-point margin on its home course.
How they’ll finish — 1. Decorah, 2. Sioux City Heelan, 3. Pella, 4. Charles City, 5. Mount Vernon-Lisbon.
CLASS 2A GIRLS
Time — 1 p.m.
Runners to watch — Defending champion Sadie Timms of Gilbert is back, as is last year’s runner-up, Mariah Kauder of Cascade. Both were regional champions — Timms at Gilbert, Kauder at Monticello. Cassandra Stufflick of Danville-New London was fifth last year and dominant at the Columbus Junction regional, building a 67-second cushion on the field. Unity Christian’s Kassidy DeJong was the eighth-place finisher in 2011 and a regional champ at Holstein.
Teams to watch — Defending champion Unity Christian has the potential to repeat, and won the Holstein regional in fairly comfortable fashion. But the Knights are not short on challengers. Northeast had four runners in the top nine at Columbus Junction and won convincingly. Cascade has been fortified by a strong crop of freshman to assist the veteran Kauder. The Cougars were champs at the Monticello qualifier. Gilbert rolled up a 30-point regional margin on its home course behind a 1-3-6 finish.
How they’ll finish — 1. Northeast, 2. Unity Christian, 3. Cascade, 4. Gilbert, 5. North Fayette.
CLASS 2A BOYS
Time — 1:30 p.m.
Runners to watch — After finishing second to now-graduated teammate Keith Byers, Will Norris of Spirit Lake moves to the front of the list of the contenders. Norris ran away from the field at the Holstein district, winning by 52 seconds. Last year’s fifth-place finisher, Michael Melchert of Monticello is poised to run with Norris and push for the crown. Thomas Pollard and Wesley Greder of Gilbert were top-20 finishers last year as freshmen, and are a year older and stronger.
Teams to watch — Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Nobody’s touching Monticello. The defending champions ran 1-2-3-5-8-9 in a convincing district win on their home course, and remain the top-ranked small-school team in America by XCnation.com. So, who’s running for second? Last year’s runner-up, Gilbert, is in the mix after rolling through a district on its home course. North Polk enjoyed a 32-point output at the Panora district while Okoboji edged Spirit Lake by three points at Holstein. But Saturday marks a coronation for Monticello, possibly the best small-school team the state has ever seen.
How they’ll finish –1. Monticello, 2. North Polk, 3. Gilbert, 4. Okoboji, 5. Spirit Lake.
CLASS 1A GIRLS
Time – 2 p.m.
Runners to watch — What can Rebekah Topham do to top last year’s effort, in which she ran 13:59 — fastest girl in all classes — and an effort that ranks No. 4 all-time at Lakeside? She’s primed to defend her title, winning by 62 seconds at the regional meet at Atlantic. Leah Seivert of Sibley-Ocheyedan was second to Topham last year, and might be her chief threat again. Seivert ran in 14:39 at the Holstein regional and won by 80 seconds. Other challengers include Tiffany Christensen of Eagle Grove and Kelsey Kirchoff of Denver, who ran 1-2 at Marshalltown.
Teams to watch — The top two teams tangled at the Atlantic regional, with Griswold outrunning Earlham by 19 points. Defending champion Pekin was hit hard by graduation but aided by the arrival of freshman Gwynne Wright, so the Panthers won’t slide far. Elkader Central pulled a mild surprise at the Arlington regional, upsetting perennial qualifier North Linn.
How they’ll finish — 1. Griswold, 2. Earlham, 3. Pekin, 4. Elkader Central, 5. North Linn.
CLASS 1A BOYS
Time — 2:30 p.m.
Runners to watch — The top three runners from last year have graduated and moved on, leaving Josh Sindelar of Council Bluffs St. Albert as the man to beat. Sindelar ran to a convincing 34-second victory at a district meet in Atlantic. Jack Walstrom of Manson-Northwest Webster ran 16:48 at the Holstein district and edged Trinty Christian’s Alex Van Ginkel by 10 seconds. Ben Friederichs of Durant blazed to a 15:18 effort at Ottumwa on a course that was extremely fast.
Teams to watch — Council Bluffs St. Albert is a steady pick to retain the title. The Falcons bring back four runners from last year’s championship team, with Sindelar and Scott Theulen running 1-2 at the Atlantic district. The Holstein district was stacked, with Alta-Aurelia, Trinity Christian and West Lyon advancing. Highland is the area’s best hope for a top-five finish.
How they’ll finish — 1. Council Bluffs St. Albert, 2. Alta-Aurelia, 3. Trinity Christian, 4. West Lyon, 5. Highland.