By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
FORT DODGE —
Northeast fans said they could tell coach Pat Healy had good news just by watching the accelerated pace in his step.
If that wasn’t enough of a tipoff, Healy gave it away when he still was 100 feet or farther away from the area where the Rebels had set up camp at Kennedy Park. A broad smile crossed his face, and he held up two fingers on each hand.
The Rebels had earned the runner-up trophy at the Iowa Class 2A girls cross country state championships.
Northeast scored 124 points Saturday and placed second behind Unity Christian of Orange City, which repeated as champion with a 97-point total.
“Interchangeable parts, that was the key,” Healy said. “This team probably had the most team unity.”
All year, it seemed as if the Rebels’ leader on race day could have been drawn from a hat. It was one runner in front one race and another the next. Four different runners had led the Rebels in at least one race.
Saturday, Kaitlynn Riley’s number came up.
Riley, a junior who hadn’t led the Rebels in a race since taking second overall in the season-opening Clinton Quad, placed ninth overall — eighth in team scoring — to cross the finish line first for Northeast. Her time for the 4,000-meter course was a personal-best 15 minutes, 29 seconds.
“Kaitlynn was a real nice surprise,” Healy said.
“I was really proud; it was awesome” Riley said, adding that the experienced she gained last year running at state helped this time. “I think I knew more what to expect. I knew how to place myself; last year I felt boxed in.”
A strong finish allowed Riley to earn a spot on the awards stand as a member of the top 10.
“At the end, I knew I had to kick,” she said. “I passed two girls.”
Sophomore Hannah Kilburg was the next Rebel across the finish line. Kilburg, who was Northeast’s No. 4 runner at both the conference and regional meets, was 25th (17th in team scoring) in 15:56. Following her was freshman Aleenah Mar-cucci (16:18), Northeast’s top finisher in the regional; senior Emily Franks, the 2010 1A state champion, (16:19); and junior Mariah Casey, the 2011 Big East champion, (16:34). Sopho-more Josye Kaczinksi, who led the Rebels at the Schoolhouse Open, finished in 16:39 and No. 7 runner, freshman Alyssa Roth, crossed the line in 16:53. Roth’s time beat every other team’s No. 7 runner by more than 1 minute.
“We ran well,” Healy said.
Second place was the highest finisher in school history for a Northeast girls team. Next year could be even better. Franks is the lone senior in the lineup, the Rebels have talent at the junior-high level and Casey, who placed sixth in the state last year, should be fully recovered from foot surgery she had last spring.