State Qualifying Cross Country Meet

George-Little Rock/Central Lyon's Gable Sieperda approaches the finish line during the 2A State Qualifying Cross Country Meet in Orange City, Iowa.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY – It was a strong 2016 fall campaign for cross country in the tri-state region for preps in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

There are a lot of things to look forward to this season but here are five storylines surrounding the upcoming 2017 season which sees practice under way this week and meets beginning the week of August 21.

1. What do seniors Gable Sieperda and Maddie Lavin have in store for their final prep campaigns?

Sieperda, the George-Little Rock/Central Lyon standout, is already a three-time state medalist. Fully healthy, the former Journal Male Cross Country Runner of the Year has one final shot at an individual state title in cross country where his three previous trips to state have seen him finish sixth, sixth and third.

Lavin, a Vermillion senior, is in line to become a rare six-time state qualifier as in South Dakota seventh-graders can compete on the varsity, something she did. The Journal’s Female Cross Country Runner of the Year captured a state individual title as an eighth-grader and also has three runner-ups to her credit.

2. Can the Sioux City public schools finally break the long state team drought?

The city’s three Class 4A schools, East, North and West, are looking to break lengthy dry spells as teams qualifying for the state meet. On the girls side the drought has reached seven years as East last qualified in 2009. The Black Raiders girls squad, with five returning runners, finished fourth in the state qualifying meet, one spot out of state qualifying position. East sophomore Olivia Barnes, the city champ as a freshman, was a state qualifier last fall.

Meanwhile, on the boys side, it’s longer, as it’s been 12 years since North qualified in 2004. North senior Merga Gemeda was an individual state qualifier as a junior last fall.

3. Can the Bishop Heelan girls and Sergeant Bluff-Luton boys back up strong seasons with another such campaign?

The Crusaders, led by state medalist Amber Aesoph, who was 14th, claimed the school’s highest finish in the four-Class era (since 2003) with their fourth-place finish, just missing the podium and a state team trophy. Heelan returns its top six runners, led by Aesoph, who won three individual races, including the MRAC title, during her first high school season. The Crusaders have run in 10 straight state meets as a team. Sergeant Bluff-Luton, meanwhile, also returns its top six runners from the school’s first-ever state qualifying unit. Miles Scott, a senior, never finished below third in 10 races last fall, capping the season with a third-place state meet finish.

4. Who emerges from the ever-difficult Class 2A region in Northwest Iowa?

Year in and year out the Northwest Iowa Class 2A teams have to battle hard just to reach the state meet in Fort Dodge and more times than not a good team is left home because of qualifying procedures and how many talent-laden teams there are in the region. Many times the fourth-place team in the 2A state qualifier in NW Iowa could have easily advanced to state and competed well, but only three teams get to go each season. The three boys teams to come out of the Northwest Iowa qualifier a year ago preformed well as Unity Christian, Western Christian and George-Little Rock/Central Lyon finished 2-3-4 at the state meet. The Knights return just three of their seven runners from a fourth straight podium (top three) finish at state. The Wolfpack bring back five runners while the Mustangs, led by Gable Sieperda and Joe Anderson (sixth at state a year ago) have all seven runners back from their first state meet appearance since 2010.

The Okoboji girls bring back all seven runners from their first state appearance since 2006 and the Pioneers are poised to make a big jump this season led by talented sophomores Kallyn Stumbo and Magan Christophersom. Unity Christian brings back four runners from a squad that ran at the state meet for the 11th straight season. Throw in Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson, George-Little Rock/Central Lyon and Western Christian and the girls 2A state qualifying race could be as close as ever.

5. What to expect from the season that lasts just three months?

The early season meets you find out which individuals and teams have come into the season prepared and have been working hard putting in miles in the summer. It’s hard to train once the season starts as in Iowa each team is allowed 10 meets, so it comes fast and furious, especially after Labor Day.

The emergence of freshmen, especially on the girls side, always gives teams lifts as the season progress while seniors look to close out their careers on a high note. Crofton senior Haley Arens has finished in the top three in her three previous state meet appearances while the Warriors saw their unprecedented 10-year run as state champs end last fall. Arens finished third last fall, after winning the state title as a sophomore and finishing second as a freshman.

Another team with experience this season is Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson, led by three-time state qualifier and two-time medalist Suzanne Putze. Two more seniors in KayLynne Bechen and Rylee Wright have state meet experience while Putze’s younger twin sisters (incoming freshman) will look to provide depth for a program that has made just one state appearance (2014) in history.

Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson junior Eric Hoffman, the first state meet qualifier in the program history, is one of six returning state meet medalists, along with Unity Christian junior Joseph Schoonhoven, South Central Calhoun junior Spencer Moon as well as Scott, Sieperda and Anderson.

Denison-Schleswig has its top two runners returning from teams that have run in back-to-back state meets. Ellie Mendlik, a senior, was a state medalist as a sophomore while Raegan Andersen, a junior, was one of four Northwest Iowans to secure medals last fall. All four medalists return as Spirit Lake junior Kourtney Delperdang, a former Journal Female Runner of the Year, is a two-time medalist as is Putze while Heelan freshman Amber Aesoph earned her first last fall.

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