CEDAR RAPIDS — Class 1A cross country state-qualifying action in Cedar Rapids on Thursday had a lot of close calls.
None of them involved Alyssa Williams.
The Durant girls' top runner continued her strong season with a 1A girls state-qualifying title at Seminole Valley Park, winning the race in 18 minutes and 26 seconds.
Williams advances as an individual to the state meet in Fort Dodge on Saturday, Oct. 31. Durant was sixth in the girls team standings with 153 points, ending a streak of four consecutive seasons at the state meet as a team.
In the 1A boys race, Wapello had the third-best team score to qualify for state as a group. Brady Royal was 14th in 17:23. Durant's Joey Tobin will return to the state meet as an individual qualifier after taking 15th place in 17:25.
Back in the girls race, though, the next closest runner to Williams was Bellevue's Camryn Reeg, currently ranked as the third-best runner in 1A by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches, who crossed the finish line 46 seconds later in 19:12.
"I'm excited for state," Williams, a senior, said. "It's a whole new experience with the [5-kilometer race], not even the same set route and I've never been at the way top at state before so it'll be thrilling and a good end to the season."
Williams took advantage of a flat course to widen her lead over Reeg. Halfway through the race, she was 20 seconds ahead. By the two-mile mark, she was 30 seconds ahead.
"I knew whatever pain I would feel would be from running too fast," Williams said. "If I wasn't feeling any pain, I just needed to run faster."
Samantha Fusco finished 32nd in 22:01 and Tori Novinski was close behind in 33rd with a time of 22:18 to round out Durant's top three.
A young Wapello team took 13th place in the girls race, led by Sierra Boysen in 48th with a time of 23:04 and Emma Reid in 49th in 23:10.
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As he finished the boys race, Royal admitted that he was initially upset because he thought he would be going to state alone.
"Then I realized Josh (Royal) and Trace (Howard) pushed up to put us in the lead (over Starmont for fourth place)," Royal said, later describing the reaction of learning they had qualified: "We just exploded. ... The entire team all erupted together and we didn't even hear who the other (qualifiyng) teams were."
Howard was 25th in 18:03, Dylan Maine took 29th in 18:07, Josh Royal was 38th in 18:22 and Jacob Ewart was 45th in 18:29 to round out Wapello's top five.
"We had to push at the end and had to catch every single person we could," Howard said.
Brady Royal and Howard said the course, while flat, lived up to a cross country billing with spots of uneven ground and even areas of thick mud.
"You had to try and keep up," Royal said. "Just battle it out and see who wanted it more."
Royal and Tobin were close for most of the race before Royal took a lead in the home stretch.
"I was trying to get top 10 and it didn't happen, just trying to push it at the end," Tobin said. "I'm pretty sure I drank too much water today, it wasn't pretty at the end but I pushed it out so I'm glad for that."
Heading into the state meet yet to be beaten in Iowa this season, Williams sees her top competition coming from Pekin, a powerhouse in the sport. Gwynne Wright, Pekin's top finisher on Thursday at Ankeny Centennial, finished the race in 19:07.
It was somewhat bittersweet to not qualify with her teammates this time around, though.
"We ran as a pack all season and progressed together really well," Williams said. "It was a really fun season with everyone."