Easton Valley and Prince of Peace compete against each other in many different sports, both calling the Tri-Rivers Conference and Class 1A home.

Cross country is no different.

Two different underclassman – freshman Marcus Blount from Prince of Peace and sophomore Aidan Gruver from Easton Valley – both managed to qualify for the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships for the first time in Iowa City last week.

It was something they both had on their radar.

“My second meet of the year,” Gruver recalled. “I got somewhat a good time, the possibility of state crossed my mind.”

Gruver had a little extra motivation. As a freshman he missed qualifying by just four seconds. He didn’t want to be on that end of things again.

“I just ran more and put more dedication into it from freshman year,” Gruver said.

Blount was new to the varsity cross scene, but still knew it was something he wanted to accomplish. He had ran at the middle school state championships and wanted to be out at Fort Dodge for the next four years.

“I just think it will be really cool and a new experience,” Blount said.

They also were very aware that they could count on each other as a good judge of where they were at. The two have been exchanging leads and races all season, with Blount pulling out a couple of the later ones.

Even in districts they only finished five seconds apart.

“A lot of people told me to stay up with him and that if I did I could probably go to state,” Blount said.

“Districts, I had the goal of staying up with him,” Gruver said. “He’s a second half race runner, while I’m more of the beginning. I try to get out in the beginning to get a good spot, so it’s always a battle at the end.”

Both have the Class 1A struggle of numbers to deal with. Blount spent most of the year running as the only boy for the Irish. Gruver has six teammates, but tends to be faster than them in a lot of the workouts.

“I just try to set a high standard for myself,” Gruver said. “In practices, if it’s high-training, I just go for doing better than I think I can.”

“It’s pretty hard,” Blount said. “I just try to push myself to what I can since there’s no one in practice that I’m trying to catch.”

For Gruver, it’s a little more special too. Not only is it his first time running with the best in the state at Fort Dodge, but he is the first one to represent Easton Valley High School ever to qualify.

Both are underclassmen and have years left after this. Still, they want to go out and make a splash.

The nerves will most certainly be there, as both admitted. But they have familiar competition running alongside of them.

“I’m just trying not to think about it [the nerves],” Gruver said. “I’m saying it’s my first time, I need to get my feet wet and get experience and then the next two years go full on at it.”