FORT DODGE, Iowa – It’s been a season full of highs for the Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson girls cross country team.
The combined WC/KP program, in its 6th season, under the direction of Jill Gallagher and Dean Harpenau has reached new heights this year.
Team champions in nine of its 10 meets this season, all but the season opening Heelan Invite, the WC/KP squad takes a No. 3 ranking into Saturday’s Iowa State Cross Country Championships at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge.
The state qualifying meet champs, led by seniors Suzanne Putze, Rylee Wright and KayLynne Bechen, teaming with four freshmen will toe the line at 1 p.m. looking to put an exclamation point on the best season in program history.
“As a team I don’t think I could be any more happy with how the team has done throughout the year,” said Bechen, a four-time qualifier. “To end my senior year, I’m glad to get to go back to state (as a team), just like I did my freshman year.”
It’s the second team berth in the girls program history for WC/KP which took ninth in 2014 when the current seniors were freshmen.
“That’s probably the best feeling in the world, our freshman year we knew we could do it and this year we know we can do even greater things,” said Bechen “It’s more important to us now than it ever has been just because we are seniors and this is our last chance to go out with a big bang.”
Putze, a two-time state meet medalist, is a four-time qualifier while Wright, a three-time qualifier, has made a big push back to the squad this season after missing her entire junior year.
Wright ran second and Putze third to lead all seven WC/KP finishers in the top 16 at the qualifying meet at Landsmeer in Orange City.
“I don’t think it really matters for us, we run to run, to help our team, individually it didn’t matter we're just helping the team,” said Wright after the qualifying race.
The state berth might mean a bit more to Wright given the missed season, but the Kingsley-Pierson student won a couple of individual races and never finished below third in a race this season.
“I’m so glad I was able to run with the same three girls all three years,” Wright said. “They have made me really comfortable with the races, they calm me down, they help me through the races when I’m really nervous.
“To start with them and to finish with them is really an awesome thing, they are more than friends.”
Putze’s season and career numbers speak for themselves with six wins this year giving her 23 for her career. Though, when she toes the line in Fort Dodge for her 43rd career race, a career that has seen her never finish lower than 14th, which came at last year's state meet, it won’t matter because of who she gets to share the experience with.
“It means so much, I remember freshman year going with a team it really is an amazing experience and you don’t really realize that until you go individually or without a team,” said Putze. “Going with a team means so much more, having them there at state, it just really makes the whole feeling, it makes it way more special and you remember so much more.”
She’ll also remember it for spending her final prep meet with her twin sisters, freshmen Mary and Sarah, while Suzanne got to experience her first state meet with her older sister Michelle.
“I can not put that into words, it’s so special,” Putze said. “It's just amazing that the last thing I’m going to do is help bring them to state, because I remember how much making it to state meant to me and it pushed me and it drove me these last four years to keep pushing.
“They are going to remember that and that’s going to push them,”
Freshmen Kalyn Cameron and Makayla Archer, ninth and 10th, respectively, across the line at the qualifier, round out the seven-member varsity unit for the Western Valley Conference champions.
Aside from the season opening Heelan Invite, a meet that saw the host Crusaders edge WC/KP by 11 points, at least two freshmen have finished in the top 10 of every meet except one.
“I’m just really proud of them,” said Wright. “Some of them think their not doing so well, they have helped us accomplish a lot. Without them we wouldn’t be the team that we are.
“My biggest motivation is also again running for my team, I really want to do good individually, but to place as a team, that’s my biggest goal.”
WC/KP will take aim at a possible podium finish (top 3), which would be the first in program history, to challenge top-ranked Mid-Prairie (third last year), second-ranked Montiello (defending champs) and fourth-ranked Crestwood (down from 3A).
“A podium finish would mean so much, that’s always the goal, you have made it so far, you just really have to put it all out there,” said Putze. “A podium finish would be amazing, I’m just really hoping that’s what it all turns out to be.”