Panthers aim for gold at home meet
The Mt. Pleasant cross-country teams look to prove their strength to rival Ft. Madison and to their home crowd in a homecoming week meet tomorrow afternoon.
The Panthers will compete in the Class AA race against the Bloodhounds, as well as against Fairfield, Keokuk and Washington at McMillan Park on Tuesday, in what will be a preview of the Southeast Conference meet.
Running varsity for the Mt. Pleasant boys will be Logan Murray, Jack Pieper, Adam Bodenham, Josh Beelman, Dalton Krum, Ryan Hutchinson and Blake Wickham.
Ellie Conrad, Beth Wells, Chloe Haffarnan, Emma Ludwig, Natalie Ita, Hannah Weber and Jenna Ludwig will represent Mt. Pleasant on the varsity girls’ team.
“We’re all healthy,” Coach Jean Caboth said, referring specifically to Weber, who battled injuries early this year, as well as throughout last season, but has been running strong for the last couple of weeks.
Logan Murray leads the Panther boys, and will likely be a leader in tomorrow’s race.
The freshman is ranked No. 16 in Class 3A, the only Panther in the top-30 rankings by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches.
Ft. Madison’s top runner, Nick Guzman, also made the list. He sits at No. 23.
“He (Murray) just has to keep doing what he’s doing,” Coach Mitch Anderson said. “There might be some guys in the small schools race to help him out.”
The large-schools class (Class AA) and the small-schools class (Class A) will run together at the meet, and the scoring will be done by a new chip timing system.
Running the Class A race will be WACO, Winfield-Mt. Union and Danville/New London, along with Burlington Notre Dame, Central Lee, Columbus, Harmony, Holy Trinity, Louisa-Muscatine, Lone Tree, Mediapolis, Van Buren, Wapello and West Liberty.
Wapello and Mediapolis, which will be running in Class A, have a couple ranked runners who could help push Murray in the race.
But overall, Anderson isn’t worried about his No. 1 runner.
“Logan (Murray) should be able to go with anyone,” Anderson said. “More important is getting our pack ahead of Ft. Madison again.”
As a team, the Panther boys have not broken into the Class 3A rankings. As of last Wednesday, Ft. Madison is ranked No. 8.
However, on Thursday last week, the Panthers finished ahead of the Bloodhounds at Ft. Madison. Mt. Pleasant was second at the meet, behind only Class 4A No. 14 Burlington.
“We just want to prove that it wasn’t a one-time deal,” Anderson said. “It’s where we expect to be at the end of the year, when it counts.”
The Mt. Pleasant boys’ runners are aiming for a state berth this season. They’d also like to win the conference meet on the way there.
“It’s been a while since we won (the conference meet),” Anderson said. “That’s another goal we have this season.”
The Mt. Pleasant girls, though they are without a ranked individual runner, have earned it the IATC’s No. 13 ranking in Class 3A.
The team has a solid pack — the Panthers had less than a minute between their No. 1 and No. 5 runners at Ft. Madison’s meet on Thursday — and its ability to run together as a team is its strong suit.
“It’s our combined strength — our top five are so close,” Caboth said. “It’s pack strength — we don’t have one top individual, but they are all really strong together.”
And they’ll have plenty of runners pushing their pack through tomorrow’s race.
“We’re going to be running with the small schools, and that will really make them (the Mt. Pleasant runners) work hard,” Caboth said.
Each Panther runner will also be able to see where they stack up against conference competition.
“It helps pinpoint exactly what runners they need to run with,” Caboth said. “We know that Ellie (Conrad) should be running with Ft. Madison’s Kaylee Alvarez, but a little farther back, its not always as clear. This race should help.”
Conrad ran step-for-step with Alvarez throughout much of the Ft. Madison Invite last Thursday, with Alvarez edging Conrad by just over a second at the finish line.
“Ellie (Conrad) was coming on strong, but just couldn’t catch her,” Caboth said.
Now on her own home course, Conrad will look to flip the tables and take home a championship, leading her team to a title.
Like in the boys’ race, it should be the Panthers and the Bloodhounds battling it out for a team title.
“It’s our home course, and I know the girls are very excited to have parents and classmates watching them, so they should do well,” Caboth said. “They have to be pumped up themselves, and they have been. They talk to each other, and I know they’re thinking about it.”
Anderson says that the same holds true for the Mt. Pleasant boys — the home course advantage lies in the cheers from the crowd.
“It’s the support of being at home,” Anderson said. “It’s one of the toughest courses we run all year, but if we have tough guys, then that’s an advantage for us.”
The meet is scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m. at McMillan Park (Old Threshers grounds). The middle school girls run first, followed by middle school boys at 5 p.m. Varsity girls run at 5:15 and varsity boys at 5:35. JV girls are slated to start at 5:55 and JV boys at 6:05. Times are approximate and races may overlap.