There’s a lot of positive energy coming from the Prince of Peace girls’ cross country team, and it just seems to keep increasing as the season end looms.

The Irish are coming off a 2018 season where they sent two individuals to the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships, a first for the Class 1A school in a few years.

Now, those two runners are back and the Irish are competing with a full team.

“Freshman year, we could barely get anyone out,” junior Sophie Griffin said. Griffin qualified for state last year, along with sophomore Kaelyn Goodsman. “We were just running on our own basically, because we had no team. When we got here now, it’s like we’re doing something.”

The entire team made the trip to Fort Dodge last October to watch Griffin and Goodman run. That in itself was motivation to the other girls.

“It was like I should be out there, because I can be better,” junior Ava Ruden said. “It really pushed all of us.”

Ruden, along with the rest of the Irish, did some leg work in the offseason. First they convinced junior Mary Schnier to join them on the cross course, giving them a complete team (Ruden, Griffin, Schnier, Madison Anglese and Kaelyn Goodsman).

“We’ve really been working hard this season and being able to talk Mary into going out helped,” Ruden said. “She’s really improved a lot, pushing herself.”

Then, they decided to start making goals as a team. With the guidance of head coach Owen Howard, they looked at where they could be and started working towards it.

“I feel like in the past few years we haven’t really had time goals,” Griffin said. “Now, Owen’s really pushing us harder because he sees where we’re at and knows we have a chance. That’s really helping us.”

The group also decided to focus more on each other and a positive environment. The Prince of Peace cross country kids have always been close, but now they’re looking at the individual sport as a team.

“When we’re running, I know we all try to motivate each other,” Griffin said. “We all talk about it, our goal is to go to state as a team. We check the rankings every time it’s out, we’re really together and pushing each other.”

And Ruden: “We’ve been really trying to cheer each other on at practice instead of just trying to beat each other. We push to keep up with each other and that’s helped.”

They made big strides just a couple of weeks ago. They slipped into the “teams to watch” category in the IATC state rankings. They also won their first meet this year, taking down Class 1A rival Marquette in Bellevue.

“It felt really good,” Ruden said. “We definitely had to work for it, it wasn’t handed to us. Marquette’s been our rival and it felt good to beat them.”

The Irish head to the state-qualifying district meet this Thursday in Iowa City and they’re concrete about their goals.

They know that it’s not going to be one or two of them, though, that’s going to get them to Fort Dodge as a team. The know that every place will count from the No. 1 to the No. 5 runner.

“I know we’re all going to be nervous, but we’re just really going to have to calm each other down,” Griffin said. “It has to be a group effort.”

But they’re focused. After all, this has been their goal since freshman year.

“We definitely have to stay positive and confident going into the meets, not being scared about the competition or bigger schools,” Ruden said. “We really have to focus on staying on ourselves and pushing each other.”