IOWA CITY − Tyler Olson's first appearance at the state cross country meet was as a spectator.
As the then-freshman watched teammate Alex Bautista competing with many of the top high school distance runners in Iowa he envisioned himself qualifying for prep cross country's biggest stage.
"Alex Bautista qualified three times," Olson said. "The first year he went, I didn't qualify that year but I went with him. That was a good experience to kind of see what it was like, and ever since then I've always wanted to go back."
That dream came true for the third time at Thursday's Class 4A state qualifier at the University of Iowa's Ashton Cross Country Course.
The senior crossed the finish line of the five-kilometer race in 16 minutes, 49.5 seconds, placing him 12th overall and sending him back to the state meet as an individual for a third consecutive year.
"To be able to perform at a high level this year and be a third-time individual qualifier is an extraordinary compliment to the type of competitor he is when it counts," Muscatine boys cross country coach Chris Foxen said.
Despite the challenges of losing a strong core of training partners − Bautista, Kyle Hoffman and Garret Dolan − Olson has continuously provided a low stick for Muscatine in meets this fall, especially during what coach Chris Foxen refers to as championship season.
Olson's impressive performance at the state qualifier arrived exactly a week after he finished fifth at the MAC Cross Country Championships in Davenport on Oct. 12.
"I'm spoiled," Foxen said about being Olson's coach for the past four years. "There's not a lot that goes into coaching someone like Tyler Olson. I put forth the workouts and he does them usually above and beyond what they call for.
"The amount of professionalism, work ethic and just overall competitiveness is unmeasured in my coaching career thus far."
All that's left now is one last state appearance, where he'll be joined by Muscatine girls runner Moriah Morter, who is no stranger to these types of events either.
The senior will make her fourth straight appearance at the state meet, but it will be the first time she will go without the rest of her team.
"Ever since I've been a freshman and qualifying for state then, it means a lot to you when you've gone there before. It's kind of like fulfilling my goals," Morter said.
The senior finished Thursday's race 11th in 20:02.4.
"When I got here I knew I wanted to qualify and I wanted to go to state," Morter said. "Just being confident in myself and pushing through the pain. It hurts when you run a race, so I knew there was going to be a lot of pain, but I pushed through that and persevered."
Muscatine's team results, however, weren't quite as glamorous. The girls finished sixth with 146 points, while the boys finished seventh with 186 points.
Iowa City West, Cedar Falls and Iowa City High all finished in the top three in the girls race to secure team bids to the state meet.
Cedar Rapids Prairie, Iowa City West and Cedar Rapids Washington finished in the top three in the boys race to advance.