The trip to the Iowa state cross country meet in Fort Dodge is always a thrill for high school athletes, but it’s a little more exciting when it’s the first time back after a few years away.

That’s definitely no exception for Prince of Peace this year.

“It’s real exciting,” Prince of Peace Coach Owen Howard said about Payton Schnier, Prince of Peace’s first boys’ state qualifier since 2011. “We pushed them hard last year and I was hoping to get them out there then but we came up short. He put the time in over the summer to get there.

“It’s always great to see your athlete push themselves and then make it to where they wanted to be.”

Payton Schnier qualified for the Irish, finishing 12th at the regional meet with a time of 17:30. This is the first male state qualifier for the Catholic school since 2011, when Schnier’s older brother, Joe Schnier, qualified as an individual.

“It feels great to get our school back out at state,” Schnier said. “It’s been a bit of a drought. It feels good getting the Irish back to Fort Dodge.”

Running is not something new for Schnier. He has five older brothers, four of whom qualified for the state meet at some point in their high school career.

“I remember coming to all their meets and watching them and saying in my head ‘I want to do that’. I’ve always had a little pressure knowing that I wouldn’t be accepted by my older brothers if I didn’t make it to state,” Schnier adds laughing. “It feels good to actually do it.”

Coach Owen Howard ran cross country for Prince of Peace himself, qualifying for the state meet in 2003. He’s been coaching the high school teams since 2014 and says he was sure Schnier would qualify from the start of the season.

“He’s a coaches favorite athlete,” Howard said. This is the first athlete Howard has had qualify since Jackie Kokjohn ran for the girls in 2014. “He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t talk back. If you tell him to do something that’s what he’s going to do. “

Schnier says he’s definitely heard all the tips from his four older brothers, and is just excited to run in Fort Dodge and see how he can stack up.

“I’m just going to start a little fast than normal so I don’t get caught up in the big middle pack, then find a group that’s running close to my pace,” Schnier said. “I’m just trying to end the year on a good note.”

Camanche is also making its return trip to Fort Dodge after being absent for the last two boys’ state meets. Their last qualifier was Jeremiah Jones, who ran in the 2014 Class 2A state meet. Dodson Melchiori is making the trip for the Indians.

“It’s pretty exciting. I’m really happy for Dodson,” Camanche Coach Erin Montgommergy said. “This has been a goal for him since the end of the season last year and he’s worked hard to get here so I’m really excited.”

Montgomery is celebrating a milestone herself. She has been with the Camanche cross country team for two years, so she is seeing her first boys’ state qualifier as head coach.

She said while she was hoping some more athletes would qualify this year, the support has been great.

“It was exciting for Dodson and maybe a little bummed for a few kids,” Montgomery said about the state qualifying meet. “They did a good job of holding back their feelings to show Dodson how happy they were for him, they’ve been great.

“I would like cross country to be a little more out there. For some schools it’s different, but it’s just one of those sports where it’s not huge around here. It’s our goal to turn it into a bigger and more successful program. Hopefully people are excited about this, and it will help with our numbers.”

For the sophomore runner, this has been the goal from the get go.

“The goal was always to make it to state,” Melchiori said. “I got 19th in the meet last year, and this year was kind of a bounce back year and I was trying to make it to state.”

Austen Clark finished 16th for the Indians at the state qualifying meet, just outside of the qualifying spot. Still, Melchiori says the support he gets from his team is part of what makes running so special.

“I like running because it’s something I succeed in. I get to get away from home, and the environment is great out here,” Melchiori said. “It’s an individual sport, but with our team we all work together to push each other and do good. Even now, everyone is out here practicing even though they didn’t qualify they’re just out here supporting the team.”

Coach Montgomery said the qualifying spot isn’t really a surprise because of the work ethic her athlete shows.

“He’s a hard worker and he will go out every day and work hard whether he wants to or not,” Montgomery said. “I know he’s going to give us everything he’s got and I am excited to see what he does for us because I know he’s going to go out and give it everything he can. I think this will help him for next year. It will give him confidence and make him an even better runner next year.”

Melchiori is ready to put in the work when he makes the trip to Fort Dodge this weekend.

“My goal is just to go out there and do the best I can,” Melchiori said. “I want to get top 20 if I can. PRs would be nice, but we’ll see how it works.”

And as a sophomore, he has two more years to make return trips for the Indians.

“That’s the goal,” Melchiori said. “Maybe bring a few more with me next year, too.”

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