FORT DODGE - It may have been her debut on the big stage but Abi Watson didn't have any jitters.
The Redhawk sophomore looked the part of a savvy veteran racing to all-state honors with a 10th place finish in the Class 1A girls race at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge Saturday.
"I settled in pretty early. I wasn't nervous," said Watson, who turned in a personal best time of 15 minutes, 15 seconds.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
North Tama sophomore Abi Watson (482) captures all-state honors with a 10th-place finish at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge Saturday. Watson used a strong closing mile to come through in 15:15.
T-R PHOTOS BY TYLER STRAND
South Tama County’s Kelsey Kupka (441) glides downhill at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Meet at Fort Dodge Saturday. Kupka came through in 16:14 to place 64th in the Class 3A field.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
East Marshall’s Paige Miller pushes through the final half mile on her way to a 19th-place finish in Class 2A. Making her third appearance at state, Miller posted her best finish ever jumping four spots from a year ago.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
West Marshall senior Victoria Pothast charges up a hill en route to a 54th-place finish at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge Saturday.
Missing the cut for state by one spot a year ago, Watson set the bar high for her Fort Dodge premiere.
"My expectation was to PR and I really wanted to get Top 10," said Watson.
Though pleased with her performance, the experience only whets Watson's appetite for more success at state.
"It makes me want to work even harder next season to get a higher placing," said Watson.
North Tama coach Mike Skopec credited Watson for taking the disappointment of last year's near miss and using it for fuel to ignite this year's success.
"(Abi) worked really hard through track season and this summer. She came in wanting to qualify for state and ran really well this season. She put everything together today," said Skopec.
Griswold's No. 2 ranked sophomore Rebekah Topham defended her crown with a time of 14:05, just 6 seconds off her state record-setting pace from a year ago. Placing third in 2011, the top-rated Tigers came away with the team title scoring 86.
Making her third appearance at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, East Marshall's Paige Miller, rated 14th in Class 2A, turned in her finest outing yet with a 19th place finish in 15:47.
Still, the senior felt that she had some unfinished business.
"I feel like I could have done better. I've been really trying to work on my finish all year and I started earlier today, but it still wasn't as strong as I hoped," said Miller.
Taking into account an injury that sidelined her for the first six weeks of the season, the senior Mustang admitted that getting back to the state meet and improving on last year's 23rd place performance was more than she could have expected back in August.
"I never would have imagined this in the beginning of the season," said Miller.
East Marshall junior Kristen Amendt also made a jump placing 24th in 15:55, an 18-spot boost from her other state appearance in 2010. Freshman Haley Fye, rated 28th, completed the Mustang trio claiming 48th in 16:25.
The upward movement was a theme that carried over for South Hardin's Claire Damon as well. Placing 56th a year ago, the sophomore Tiger climbed to 39th in 16:11 and had an open mind as she toed the line in Fort Dodge for the second time.
"When you get to state, you don't worry about making it any further. You just go out and run. At the end I wish I could have kicked a little more, but I feel like I ran the race that I wanted to," said Damon.
South Hardin coach Mike Olson couldn't complain with the results either.
"Claire did a nice job improving her time from last year, which was a goal," said Olson.
West Marshall senior Victoria Pothast made her third tour of the Fort Dodge course and grabbed 54th in a time of 16:31.
"I wanted to do a lot better, but I was kind of worried that I was going to have some asthma problems so I was holding back. In the end I had way too much left and that's not how I wanted to run it," said Pothast.
A middle-distance specialist, Pothast got out fast, but showed some grit near the finish.
"The first mile was a little bit quicker than she usually goes, but she hung on from there. It was a good wrap up for a career," said West Marshall coach Brian Weig.
Danville/New London's Cassandra Stuflick, the second-rated runner in 2A, topped the field in 14:54. Defending champion Unity Christian, ranked No. 2, reclaimed their spot atop the team standings with a score of 94.
In Class 3A action, South Tama County senior Kelsey Kupka made the most of her final race placing 64th in 16:10.
"It was tiring, but it felt good," said Kupka, who had bittersweet thoughts as she neared the finish.
"I couldn't believe it was my last race. I'm going to miss this," said Kupka.
Waverly-Shell Rock's No. 1 ranked Anna Holdiman claimed her second state title and her fourth top-five finish in a time of 13:51 - 39 seconds ahead of repeat runner-up Lauren Benzing of Solon. Benzing was the Class 2A champion in 2010.
Placing five runners in the top-16, top-ranked Decorah tallied a score of 63 to grab the team trophy and post its sixth top-four finish in the past seven years.