Moving back up into Class 2A this season has been a near-seamless transition for the St. Edmond boys cross country program.
Now, the ninth-ranked Gaels will look to apply the finishing touches on another memorable campaign here today.
Start time for the 34th annual co-ed state meet is set for 11 a.m. this morning at Lakeside Golf Course. Class 2A boys action will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon.
At the state qualifier on Monday in Panora, SEHS settled for a runner-up effort in the team race behind No. 2 North Polk. Fourth-ranked Gael senior Seth Reel earned an individual district title, clocking a mark of 17:24.15. Classmate Colten Lastine also advanced individually, checking in fourth with a time of 18:11.17.
Sophomores Jacob Hamilton and John Eide, junior Casey McEvoy, freshman Harrison Mayer and sophomore Nate Yetmar round out the deep St. Edmond lineup. Junior Kaden McClintock remains sidelined after being forced to pull out of the district race early with a nagging hip injury.
"We've been preparing all week for Kaden not being able to run, and we just have to have some other guys step up for us now," SEHS head coach Mike Szalat said. "If there's ever been a year where we can afford to lose somebody, this is probably the one since the gap between our guys isn't as large as it has been in the past."
Reel, a school-record holder and 2012 North Central Conference champion, previously placed 52nd in the 2A state field as a sophomore and sixth in the 1A event as a junior. Reel secured four individual victories this season.
"Seth is a great leader, and has been a team guy all year long," Szalat said. "I know he's going to try and run the best race he can to put our team in the best spot possible. Hopefully, we can pack up just like we have all season, but (at state) you never really know how things might go."
Last fall, the perennial power Gaels placed third in the 1A state meet - their highest finish in school history. This season's appearance at Lakeside marks their fifth in the past six years.
"(State) is obviously not just another meet, but you need to treat it that way, which is the same for all other sports this time of the year, " said Szalat. "Kids that get into trouble are the ones that try to do something they aren't capable of. You just have to be mindful and try to get a (personal record) by a few seconds."
No. 1 and defending state champion Monticello appears to be the clear favorite for the 2A team championship. North Polk and third-ranked and 2011 state runner-up Gilbert are the other top contenders.
"We're going for a trophy again, and I feel like we have a realistic shot to finish anywhere between three through eight," Szalat said. "As the coach, I want our kids to think good thoughts and have a positive mindset going in."
Spirit Lake's No. 1 senior and reigning state runner-up Will Norris, second-ranked junior Michael Melchert of Monticello and Gilbert's No. 3 sophomore Thomas Pollard - the son of Iowa State University Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard - each have their sights set on individual gold.