Aside from the old story of the inclement weather, the Prairie City-Monroe girls track team had to ward off plenty of other bad luck this season.
The Mustangs cast whatever ailed them aside, however, and now have nine state track events to show for it. Mix that with the three events from the Mustang boys team, and it would be hard to find anyone from PCM complaining about this season’s results.
“Considering we’ve had such an up-and-down season with injuries and illnesses, getting nine events into state is exciting for us,” first-year girls coach Bridget Burns said. “Overall, we met our goals of wanting to get more girls in than last year and qualify for more events, but now we just want to make sure we finish out strong.”
The Mustang girls will boast a wide array of experience at state. On top of returning qualifiers from last season in seniors Kelsey Townsend, juniors Abbi Gilson and Lexi Kain and sophomores Mackenzie Clarke, Rachel Peter, Courtney Van Houweling and Emma Williams, there are also the newcomers like senior Alex Samson and freshmen Emily Hugen and Ashley Van Gorp.
While that mixture has yielded success this season, Burns is hoping is will create further success down the road.
“We’re extremely lucky to have some returners from state last year, but I’m also really excited to get a few freshman to run on the blue track because there’s really no experience like it,” Burns said. “As a program, we want to get as many people as we can there young so they’ll get excited about track.”
Among the team’s goals is placing in the 4x100-meter relay, in which the Mustangs currently rank eighth. Kain will also try to place in her three open events (200, 400 and 400 hurdles), as will Gilson in the discus and shot put. Burns simply would like to finish in the top of half of the Mustangs’ remaining events, but would also settle for some personal-bests to end the season on a strong note.
“Yes, we’re going to have fun at state, but we still want to improve,” Burns said. “With our shortened season we want to take advantage of getting another meet in, even if it is state.”
Things are a little simpler for PCM on the boys side, as senior Ethan Kain and Hunter Reed will run in three events between the two of them. Kain has some Drake Stadium experience from last season, while Reed has come up just short multiple times.
Reed has staked his claim as the team’s top hurdler throughout the year, qualifying in both the 110 and 400 hurdles. He will have some big shoes to fill in the 400 hurdles, however, as former teammate Jordan Van Roekel brought the state title in that event back to Monroe last season.
“He’s taking it as his own, but one of the things we talked about at the beginning of the year was that he had one of the best in state to train with for three years,” said PCM coach Ben Anderson, who has been working with the qualifiers in the hurdles. “Jordan is Jordan and Hunter is Hunter, but Hunter deserves this just as much as anyone else. He’s worked really hard at it.”
On the flip side, Kain’s path is much shorter. He ran in his first 110 hurdles event at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet because of an idea from coach Joel Grier, and found some success in it. He then tied for third at the state qualifying meet and thus earned a trip to compete with Reed in the 110 hurdles at state.
“Mr. Grier thought he should be able to do it, and he went ahead and did it. Two races and he’s running on the blue track,” Anderson said with a laugh. “It just shows how talented he is and how track-savvy he is.”
Kain and Reed’s qualifications are something of a reward for their dedication to the team, especially this past season. With PCM sporting a more inexperienced squad from past seasons, Kain and Reed emerged as leaders on and off the track and will supply their teammates with some final lessons at Drake.
“In a roundabout way, I think they understood what their role on the track team was,” Anderson said. “It’s a hard role to embrace sometimes when you’re low in numbers, but I think the other kids saw how they worked, so hopefully moving forward they can do the same thing.”