Panther runners face tough path to state
All that stands between Mt. Pleasant cross-country teams and a trip to state is one more meet — unfortunately, that meet is arguably the toughest 3A qualifier in the state.
The Panthers have run at the qualifier in Anamosa in past years, but Anamosa dropped down to 2A this year. So this year, the Panthers are at Solon. The meet starts at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday).
Mt. Pleasant is one of five ranked teams on the girls’ side, and there are four ranked teams on the boys’ side of the qualifier.
The top three teams on each side will advance to the state meet, along with the top 10 individuals.
The girls’ side includes top-ranked Davenport Assumption, which has four runners ranked in the top 20 among individuals and is a heavy favorite to take the title.
“We’re just kind of ignoring them,” Mt. Pleasant Coach Jean Caboth said. “We want to deal with Mt. Vernon/Lisbon and Xavier, and put Solon behind us.”
The Panthers will have to beat at least two of those teams, along with all of the unranked teams, to qualify for state, which will be run at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Ft. Dodge on Saturday, Nov. 2.
Mt. Vernon/Lisbon is ranked No. 5 in Class 3A, and Xavier is No. 8, right ahead of the ninth-ranked Panthers.
“Mt. Vernon/Lisbon is probably the next favorite, but they don’t have a lock on it,” Caboth said.
Solon sits at No. 14, and came in behind Mt. Pleasant at the North Linn Invite earlier this year. The Panthers would like to keep them there for the qualifier.
“I’m hoping we can get our pack in between the runners from Mt. Vernon/Lisbon and Xavier,” Caboth said. “Xavier has a few gaps, and Mt. Vernon/Lisbon is like us — one lead runner, and then a pack.”
Mt. Pleasant’s lead runner for nearly every race this season has been Ellie Conrad.
“She really wants to get there (to state),” Caboth said. “All the girls are really focused. The last few days, they haven’t been goofy at all. For three of them, this is their last shot.”
Chloe Haffarnan, Emma Ludwig and Hannah Weber are seniors this season. Along with Conrad, a junior, the other varsity runners at the qualifier will be juniors Beth Wells and Natalie Ita, and freshman Jenna Ludwig.
“There are a number of teams with a few freshmen running, and you can’t always predict how they’ll react in big meets and bad weather,” Caboth said. “We’re hoping our maturity will help us. And our girls kind of like the wind. They do well in the rain, and they do well in the cold, too.”
The National Weather Service forecast for Thursday in Solon is mostly sunny, with a high near 42. The wind will be 10 to 15 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 20 miles per hour.
On the boys’ side of the meet, things aren’t any easier for Mt. Pleasant.
Their lead runner, Logan Murray, is ranked No. 12 in Class 3A and has a good shot at qualifying for the meet as an individual.
The is one runner at the meet ranked ahead of Murray — No. 6 Cedar Point-Urbana’s Josh Yeager.
“Yeager is the district favorite heading into the meet,” Mt. Pleasant Boys’ Coach Mitch Anderson said. “Logan (Murray) will probably key off of him, because he knows (Yeager) will be one of the best at the qualifier.”
The two raced against each other earlier this season at North Linn.
“At North Linn, Logan (Murray) was coming back from a knee injury, and he was just 10 seconds back,” Anderson.
But Murray isn’t getting any pressure from his coach to win the meet. It doesn’t take a district win to qualify — just a top-10 finish — and Murray’s focus is on state.
“He’d like to place in the top 15 or so at state,” Anderson said. “(At the qualifier), we think he can be a top-three kid. We think it would be a good race if he finished in the top three.”
For the Mt. Pleasant team, qualifying for state is a longer shot.
They’d have to beat at least one of the four teams ranked ahead of them — No. 5 Xavier, No. 8 Center Point-Urbana, No. 11 Mt. Vernon/Lisbon and No. 12 Marion.
“Our goal is to put together the best performance we’ve had all season,” Anderson said. “It’s a tough qualifier, with four ranked teams — and Solon and Clear Creek have been running very well, too. There are seven strong teams there, so we’re just going to try to beat as many of them as we can.”
Along with Murray, the varsity lineup for the qualifier includes Josh Beelman, Ryan Hutchinson, Adam Bodenham, Brad Martin, Ben Zihlman and Henry Pham.
Beelman, Pham and Martin are juniors, the rest of the runners are freshmen.
“With so many freshmen, this whole season has been a learning experience, and it will continue to be at the state qualifier. But if they don’t qualify, they’ll definitely know what it takes next year.”