CLINTON — Pat Healy admits there were some doubts about his Northeast High School girls cross country team at parts of this season.
Coming off a second-place finish at last year's state meet, the Rebels were ranked high at the start of the season with high expectations. First, there were ailments, then some performance issues. But now, Healy and his girls feel pretty good about how things are going as they ready themselves for today's Iowa cross country state meet at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge.
"Last year we got second, and think we were aiming for that, but when we were fourth in the conference we had some doubts," Healy said.
But the Rebels regained some confidence with a second-place finish at their Class 2A state-qualifying meet, and they take a No. 6 state ranking into today's meet. For Northeast's small team, it certainly is a team effort.
"We run as a pack pretty much all year round," Healy said. "If the pack is up there close enough, we know we'll be all right."
Healy said there were other advantages to having everyone run together.
"What's nice is the girls get a lot of camaraderie," he said. "If one person is down, the next picks it up."
Hannah Kilburg is the Rebels' top runner and carries a No. 18 state ranking into today's 4,000-meter race. After her, Maddy Kaczinski, Aleenah Marcucci and Kaitlynn Riley typically are bunched up, although Riley had a breakout race at state last year, finishing ninth.
Northeast's boys team also is looking for a high finish. It enters the meet ranked fourth in Class 2A, with senior Eli Kaczinski at the No. 6 spot individually.
"I really hope Eli can get in the top 10," Northeast boys coach Mike Mattis said. "He deserves it for what he's done for four years.
"Our boys will se how high they can go. I figure we're still on the rise as far as running as a group."
Bellevue is the only other team from the area that qualified. The Comets are led by Andrew Meyer, who is looking to finish in the top 10 again this fall in Class 1A in the 5,000-meter race. He is ranked second in the state.
Clinton High will be represented by junior Kim Kaster in Class 4A, while Jackie Kokjohn has qualified to run in the Class 1A girls race for the fourth year in a row.
Kaster runs in the first race of the day at 11 a.m. The 4A girls are followed by the 4A boys, 3A girls, 3A boys, 2A girls, 2A boys, 1A girls and 1A boys, with races set for each half hour.
Kokjohn placed 26th last year and is ranked 17th in the latest 1A rankings compiled by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches. Megan Slattery of Calamus-Wheatland, who also qualified individually in 1A, is ranked 24th.
Kyle Marti will represent Central DeWitt in the boys Class 3A race. He is ranked 16th. Lucas Schmidt of Marquette Catholic qualified individually in 1A.
Only one champion is back to defend a title among the boys and the girls.
Chandler Austin and Albert Meier of Boone finished 1-2 last year in 3A, and both return.
Meanwhile, Griswold's Rebekah Topham is aiming for a third straight title in the 1A girls field.