MUSCATINE, Iowa — There wasn’t time to think about it.
From the moment the Muscatine High School girls cross country runners took off from the starting line of the Iowa State Co-Ed Cross Country meet last Nov. 2, there was no slowing down.
They found that out the hard way.
“We had ran races where we had run fast, but this meet it was really kind of an eye-opener,” Muscatine sophomore runner Brina Kraft said. “You go out and you don’t realize it at first, but suddenly you realize how fast you’re going when they yell out that mile time. It’s not something you can get used to right away.”
A young group, the Muskie girls finished 15th in the Class 4A race last season in their first appearance at the state meet since 2005. They return to Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge on Saturday with more experience and the drive to improve.
Kraft, junior Larkin Chapman, sophomore Danielle Roos and junior Regan France return to run at state for the second straight season for Muscatine in Saturday’s 4A race with redemption on their minds.
“I’ve heard a lot of, ‘We don’t want to have a repeat of last year.’ I think we’re legitimately a top-10 team,” Mucatine coach Tim Armstrong said. “We talked about some things that if we all run our best race, we could be as high as third or fourth. We want to at least try to hold our ranking, which is [seventh].”
Their experience last season left a bad taste in the Muskie girls' mouths. They felt they were capable of a top-10 finish but, instead, ended up finishing in last place.
That’s been something that has help drive them during a steadily strong season where the Muskies have been in the Iowa Association of Track Coaches’ poll since its start, including checking in at No. 7 in 4A in the final poll released Wednesday.
“We were really disappointed [in] the way we did,” Roos said. “This year we just went out thinking we’re going to do better. We’re striving to do way better than we did.”
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They hope to draw on their experiences from last season to help them Saturday. They also feel they may benefit from hosting a 4A state-qualifying meet at Muscatine Municipal Golf Course on Oct. 23, a course Armstrong said other coaches told him was similar to Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.
“It was kind of like a warmup you could say, Muni was,” Kraft said. “We had practiced three times on it before. Running on it has really given us an advantage to where you could say we know what it’s going to be like at state.”
Muscatine will also rely on three newcomers on Saturday: freshman Moriah Morter and seniors Cassidy Conway and Lauren Keitel. All three know what they need to do.
“They realize that everybody has to have a good race,” Armstrong said. “If you have one girl that has an off day, it can really affect your results.”
For Conway, just racing Saturday will be a joyful moment. She didn’t come out for cross country until her junior season last fall and was expected to be in position for a varsity spot. A stress fracture injury nipped those hopes in the bud.
As she prepares to run at state Saturday, she knows and is ready to execute her role for a team she believes, despite coming into the season with high expectations, has still surprised after having to replace Reyna Melendez, who ran at the state meet last November as a junior but missed her senior season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“I know for Brina, she’s obviously out to be at the front. That’s what she’s out to do,” Conway said. “Two through four, two through five even, I think they’re all chasing after one another. I know it’s very competitive in [that] group of girls. And then you have me and Lauren and we’re just trying to stick with them. Keep our eyes on them as long as possible.”
The plans are laid out. The Muskies know what, and how, they need to perform to achieve their goals of a top-10 finish, besting Pleasant Valley and, hopefully, earning a top-six finish to verify they’re as good as they’ve shown all season.
“You just got to give 110 percent no matter what you’re doing throughout that whole race, even if you’re tired or you don’t feel good," Roos said. "You just got to keep going because you’re going to be running for 15, 16 minutes and that’s all you got to think about.”