FORT DODGE, Iowa – Sioux City North boys cross country team has broken down the door, now it goes after something more.
The Stars ended a 12-year drought by qualifying for the Iowa State Cross Country Championships which unfold Saturday at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge.
North, thanks to its third-place finish at the qualifying meet at Iowa Western Community College, will take part in the Class 4A boys race that begins at Noon as a team for the first time since 2004.
“I had found out when they printed off the results, but I kept it a secret, I wanted them to be genuinely excited,” said North coach Abdier Marrero. “Man it was, I don’t even know how to describe it, it was intense and crazy, overall happy. I still can’t believe they ran that fast.”
Returning to the same course where one week earlier the Stars had been edged by Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the Missouri River Conference Championships in a race where Marrero describes it as leaving the door open and SB-L took advantage.
North did the same at the qualifying meet, edging a ranked Ankeny Centennial squad that two weeks earlier at the Fort Dodge Invitational had finished fifth to the Stars 12th place.
“We talked about how the week before we left the door open for SB-L to steal the conference from us and they did,” said Marrero. “We talked if Centennial leaves the door open for us we have to be ready to do exactly that and go out and steal it and close the door behind us. They put together some amazing races.”
The Stars now return to Lakeside for the second time this month looking to improve upon their No. 14 ranking entering the meet.
“The mindset has always been the same, the goal is to try and not just believe that they belong in this category, in this group, but they feel like there is more,” said Marrero. “One approach, you can be happy to be there take last place and nobody would even bat an eye and say congratulations or we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and shocking people left and right and see what we got.”
North takes its lead up front from senior Merga Gemeda, the lone returning state qualifier amongst the varsity seven.
Gemeda, the City and MRAC champ, ran fifth at the Fort Dodge Invite, finishing behind both Dowling Catholic senior Matthew Carmody and Ankeny Centennial senior Camden Cox. Gemeda, though, ran second at the qualifier, running shoulder to shoulder with Carmody, the Roy Griak Gold Division runner-up, for much of the 5,000 meter race while beating Cox.
Three other seniors will compete in their final high school races, Drake Beller, Jackson Baker and Lami Gemeda, Merga’s twin brother who is in his first season of cross country. The rest of the seven-member unit include juniors Deven Pace and Dakota South and freshman Jaysen Bouwers.
Pace finished ninth and Bouwers, running in his first varsity meet of his career after junior Ethan Sorenson yielded his spot for the betterment of the team, was 13th. The five counting runners in Council Bluffs for the Stars ran 17:01 or under.
A duplicate effort on a similar course in Fort Dodge should yield them the results they are looking for.
“The guys are feeling like ‘I think we can do better’ they are hungry on themselves,” said Marrero. “I don’t even have to do anything at this point, they want it, they think they can finish higher than 14th as long as they believe it, I’m going to believe it right along with them.”
Marrero reminds his team of the opportunity ahead of them, especially with the amount of teams from the Fort Dodge Invite that are not getting to come back to Fort Dodge for the state meet.
“When we went to Fort Dodge it was kind of rainy and a little chilly, we lost to all those schools, but we still ran well, we competed,” said Marrero. “In a meet that had almost 200 kids (137 exactly), it sort of felt like that. Just the attitude that day, when they finished the race, even though we got beat we didn’t feel like we got beat.
“We pointed out that five of the teams that beat us that day, including Centennial which was fifth at Fort Dodge and we were 12th, five teams that beat us are staying home and watching the state meet and they’re taking that like ‘whoa.”