Following months of training and hard work, both the Fort Dodge and St. Edmond boys and girls cross country teams will look to make the most of their opportunities on Thursday.
State qualifying meets will be held at 20 different sites across Iowa.
Joining the Gaels in a Class 2A field in Ames are Clarion-Goldfield, Central Springs, CMB-Baxter, Dike-New Hartford, East Marshall, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Forest City, host Gilbert, Hampton-Dumont, Roland-Story, South Hardin, South Tama and West Marshall.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers will run at Ankeny against 4A opponents Ames, Ankeny, host Ankeny Centennial, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines Hoover, West Des Moines Dowling, Indianola, Norwalk and West Des Moines Valley.
Girls action begins at 4 p.m., with the boys to follow. The Top-3 teams and Top-10 individuals advance to the 35th annual co-ed state meet set for Nov. 2 at Fort Dodge's Lakeside Golf Course inside Kennedy Park.
Mike Szalat's eighth-ranked SEHS boys are seeking their fourth district crown since 2007. St. Edmond, which settled for third at last week's North Central Conference meet in Eagle Grove, placed fifth at state a year ago on the heels of a runner-up district performance.
AREA DISTRICT CROSS COUNTRY ASSIGNMENTS
Thursday, Oct. 24
Fort Dodge, Ames, Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines Hoover, Indianola, Norwalk, West Des Moines Dowling, West Des Moines Valley.
Algona, Webster City, Boone, Boyden Hull/Rock Valley, Carroll Kuemper, Denison-Schleswig, LeMars, MOC-Floyd Valley, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Spencer, Storm Lake.
Humboldt, ADM, Atlantic, Ballard, Creston, Dallas Center-Grimes, Glenwood, Harlan, Madrid, Perry, Saydel, Shenandoah/Essex (Girls Only), Winterset.
at Ames (Iowa State)
St. Edmond, Clarion-Goldfield, CMB-Baxter, Dike-New Hartford, East Marshall, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Forest City, Gilbert, Hampton-Dumont, Roland-Story, South Hardin, South Tama, West Marshall.
at Orange City
East Sac County, South Central Calhoun, Cherokee, Estherville-LC, George-Little Rock/Central Lyon, OA-BCIG, Okoboji, Ridge View, Sheldon, Sioux Center, Spirit Lake, Unity Christian, Western Christian, Woodbury Central.
Greene County, Albia, Central Decatur, Clarinda, Clarke, Interstate 35, Missouri Valley, North Polk, Panorama, PCM-Monroe, Pella Christian, Red Oak, Shenandoah (Boys Only), West Central Valley, Woodward Academy (Boys Only).
at Eagle Grove
Bishop Garrigan, Corwith-CWL, Eagle Grove, Manson Northwest Webster, Paton-Churdan, Prairie Valley, Southeast Webster-Grand, Belmond-Klemme, Colo-Nesco, Des Moines Christian, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, GMG, Grandview Park Baptist (Boys Only), Grundy Center, Janesville, Lake Mills, Nashua-Planfield, Mason City Newman, North Butler, North Iowa, Ogden, Rockford, Saint Ansgar, South Hamilton, Valley Lutheran, Van Meter, West Fork.
Emmetsburg, Laurens-Marathon, Pocahontas Area, LeMars Gehlen, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn, Hinton, Lawton-Bronson, Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn, North Union, Remsen St. Mary's, Sibley-Ocheyedan, Sioux Central, South O'Brien, Trinity Christian, West Lyon, West Monona, West Sioux, Westwood.
"Our boys will run a tougher course than the girls because they turn them back into the woods," Szalat said. "No matter the course, though, the bottom line and the important thing (today) is placing and beating other teams."
Senior Casey McEvoy, junior Jacob Hamilton and sophomore Harrison Mayer anchor the Gael lineup. McEvoy, Hamilton, Mayer and juniors John Eide and Nate Yetmar each participated at state for SEHS in 2012.
Aside from the Gaels, No. 2 Gilbert and sixth-ranked East Marshall appear to be the boys favorites.
Gilbert's No. 1 and defending state runner-up Thomas Pollard - the son of Iowa State University Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard - and fifth-ranked Wesley Greder are the standout individuals.
On the girls side, third-ranked Gilbert and No. 10 South Hardin are the top contenders. Gilbert's No. 1 Grace Gibbons and eighth-ranked Carly Rahn each have title aspirations.
Freshman Jaci Taylor and sophomore Madi Reel pace St. Edmond.
"I'm expecting our girls to run their best times of the year, and the (Iowa State University) course provides a great opportunity for that to happen," said Szalat. "Hopefully, our kids will warm up properly and do the things like they've been taught. We obviously finished at the lower end of most of our meets, but I'm looking for us to be somewhere in the middle of the pack."
Fort Dodge has already faced several of these programs throughout the season, including a week ago at the CIC Invitational in Ames. No. 30 junior Alex Jackson and classmate Thomas Thompson lead the way for the Dodgers. Jackson, who checked in 11th at the recent CIC Invitational, placed sixth at districts last fall and was 78th at state.
"We definitely have one of the toughest districts this year, but it doesn't mean we can't do anything," FDSH head coach Tim Hanson said. "Alex is probably one of the top 10 kids going into (today), so as long as he runs his normal race, I don't see why he won't make it (to state). Thomas is No. 16 just going off the numbers, but if he puts it all out there he could qualify, too.
"All of our guys will need to run a (personal record) and hope another team will have a subpar day for us to sneak in and finish in the top three (of the team race)."
Fifth-ranked Ames, No. 8 Dowling and 12th-ranked West Des Moines Valley are the boys frontrunners. West Des Moines Valley's No. 2 Daniel Soto and fifth-ranked Ryan Schweizer spearhead the individual field.
Senior Madison Bodholdt and junior Becca Sunken will be leaned on heavily by the Fort Dodge girls.
"For our girls, it's just a matter of us going out and running the best we can and having some fun," said Hanson. "There's no limit as long as you put the hard work in."
No. 1 Dowling, second-ranked Ames and No. 13 Ankeny Centennial all have their sights set on a district championship. Dowling's second-ranked and reigning state bronze medalist Karissa Schweizer and 11th-ranked Caroline Marnin of Ames are the individual standouts.