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– Messenger Photo by Britt Kudla St. Edmond Girls Cross Country State Qualifiers are left to right, front row: Andee Barwin, Klara Baker, Anna Koacia back row: Hannah Landwehr, Michaela Leiting, Anna Lursen, Gracie Rial, Ellie Knox

For the third consecutive season, both boys and girls from St Edmond will have the opportunity to compete against the best of Class 1A at the state convention.

The Gaels hit the road here at Kennedy Park on the Lakeside Golf Course on Friday. The girls’ race starts at 10:30 am, the boys’ race at 11:15 am and an awards ceremony at 12:00 pm.

Head coach Mike Szalat has not had a crash at the state championships since taking office 24 years ago. This is the ninth straight team appearance for the girls while the boys are making it for a third straight season.

Running alongside the SEHS boys are Clayton Ridge, Iowa City Regina, IKM-Manning, North Mahaska, ACGC, Ogden, Bellevue, Woodbine, Lake Mills, East Marshall, Madrid, Cascade, North Linn, Sioux Central and Council Bluffs St. Albert.

On the girls side, the field of teams includes the Gaels, North Linn, IKM-Manning, Iowa City Regina, Sibley-Ocheyedan, Alta-Aurelia, Logan-Magnolia, North Tama, Madrid, Pekin, Woodbine, South Winneshiek, Earlham, North Iowa, Cascade and Hudson.

St. Edmond is one of seven programs in which both participate. The Gaels swept team gold at the state qualifying meeting in Manly a week ago.

“We’ve always had teams with pretty good chemistry between them and this one is no different,” said Szalat. “When I was running in high school during cross country season, I hung out with the cross country kids. It was kind of always the same vibe I got from our kids. Some are moving on and doing other sports, but they seem like a pretty tight-knit group.”

Last year, the Gael girls achieved a program best in third place, while the boys once again finished in the top 10. Szalat, who is constantly crunching the numbers to try and get a good projection, has done just that once again.

“It was a complete 180-degree turn compared to most years,” he said. “Prior to state qualifiers, we had a tough course for the North Central Conference meeting in Humboldt. At Manly it was the fastest course I have ever seen. With that in mind, it was interesting to put together the status table.

“Coach (Monica) Shelly and I tried to prepare her as much as possible. For many, this is her first time running for a state.”

The brother-sister duo of senior Aaron Lursen and newcomer Anna Lursen are No. 1 for their team. They are joined by seniors Carter Rial, Klara Baker and Anna Kolacia; juniors Thomas Cosgrove, Sam Mericle, Andee Barwin, Hannah Landwehr and Michaela Leiting; sophomores Liam Shannon and Ellie Knox; and newcomers Thomas Knobbe and Anthony Valles. Alternates are 9th grader Jonah Carlson and 10th grader Gracie Rial.

“As a coach, my personal goal is to get both of them into the top eight,” said Szalat. “We’ve got our plan laid out for how we’re going to attack the course and I’ll be about 800 yards in and Coach Shelly about 800 yards from the finish so they see a face they know and know where they are.

“We have been racing against strong competition all year, so this is nothing new. We prepare them.”

Szalat is also hoping for a strong crowd to cheer them on as St Edmond has no school on Friday. He also recognized the benefits of competing in the state at home.

“We don’t have to worry about travel, arranging hotels and all that. We all stick to the routine and sleep in our own beds the night before.” he said. “I think that’s a big advantage. Now it’s new to run on Friday instead of Saturday and it might not work for some but since our kids don’t have school I think we will see a lot of SEXC fans out there.

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