By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
In a sport like cross country there really is no offseason.
Runners train year-round in preparation for the high school cross country season that began with practice earlier this month and officially opens for area teams with the first competition of the season this week.
The ultimate reward for the months of training is a trip to the state meet at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge on Oct. 28 and a top three finish and spot on the balcony.
As competition heats up here are the top storylines to follow for area cross county teams this fall.
Bailey Nock became the sixth state champion in West High history last season when she claimed the Class 4A title in a time of 18:06.09.
Already a three-time top-10 finisher and one of the top distance runners in West High history Nock will try to put the finishing touches on what has been an exceptional career by becoming the first two-time champ at West High since Sarah Wickman won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
Nock opens the season atop the Class 4A individual rankings by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches, in front of Johnston senior Jessica McKee who finished in second place more than three seconds behind Nock at the state meet last season.
Ready to Run
It’s been a whirlwind few months for Liberty High cross country coaches Josh Hildebrand and Tonya McDonough.
Four months since being announced as the head coaches in program history Hildebrand (boys head coach) and McDonough (girls head coach) lead their respective teams into the first competition in program history.
Neither coach is a stranger to success.
McDonough won state titles at Durant and Marion while Hildebrand was an assistant coach at 4A perennial power City High for 12 seasons.
Liberty High will compete as a Class 3A team in its first season this fall.
New Faces in Familiar Places
Things will look different at both Regina and City High in the first season without departed long-time coaches at both schools.
The coaching staff won’t look all that different at either traditional state power with both programs hiring assistant coaches to run programs that annually rank among the best in the state.
Ryan and Lynn Ahlers took over the reins of the City High girls program after veteran Tom Mittman stepped down last spring.
The husband and wife duo brings more than 20 years combined experience as assistant coaches into their first season leading the Little Hawks.
At Regina, former assistant coach Chris Murdock replaces long-time coach and Regina graduate Chad Swope.
Double No. 1s
Bailey Nock isn’t the only distance stud roaming the halls at West High.
Junior Kolby Greiner gives West High the top-ranked runner on both the boys and girls side, appearing atop the Class 4A boys preseason rankings.
Greiner has made a steady climb toward the top of the 4A distance mountain.
He was 46th at the state meet as a freshman and 11th last year in a time of 16:05.9.
Greiner had a standout sophomore season on the track last spring and opens the cross country season ranked number one in front of Camden Cox of Ankeny Centennial.
Back for More in Class 3A
Last season was all about a return to the Class 3A state meet for the Clear Creek Amana boys and Solon girls programs.
The Clippers reached the state meet for the second time in program history and first since 2013, finishing 14th in the 15-team field.
Solon snapped a three-year state meet draught with its first trip to state since 2012 but finished 15th in the 3A girls field.
This year both teams want more than a return to Fort Dodge.
Clear Creek Amana returns two of its top three state placers from last season while Solon brings back six runners from last year’s state qualifying squad.
Make It An Even 30
The City High girls qualified for the state meet for the 29th consecutive season last October.
This season the Little Hawks will try to extend that streak to an even three decades.
City High returns five runners from last year’s team that finished third in Class 4A, the 15th top-three finish for the Little Hawks in the past 20 seasons.
Home Course Advantage
Running a familiar course always helps.
A trio of area teams will have that advantage as they attempt to secure trips to the state meet.
City High, Solon and Regina will all host state qualifying meets on October 19.
Regina will host a 2A qualifier and City High a 4A qualifier with races beginning at 4 p.m.
Solon will host both a Class 1A and Class 3A qualifier with the Class 1A races beginning at 3 p.m.