PCM cross country coach Eric Karr has guided a girls team to the state meet in a previous season.
But heading into 2020, Karr may field the best girls team he’s ever had since taking over the program.
That, along with high expectations for senior Beau Webb, and it could be a big fall season for Mustang harriers.
“I have pretty high expectations for the girls and think this will be our best team ever,” Karr said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ranked and turn some heads at state.”
The girls’ team is led by returning sophomore state qualifier Paige Steenhoek, who was 44th in the Class 2A state meet last fall.
The boys’ team is short on numbers, but Webb nearly clinched a spot in the state meet last season. He was 17th at the state qualifying meet in Williamsburg. The top 15 finishers advance to state.
The boys’ roster includes four other runners in seniors Garin Padget, Colton St. Pierre and Dylan Masterson and junior Kyle Sanders.
Karr had three runners to start the season but will now have enough to score as a team.
“Hopefully more boys will show up for mandatory workouts so we can fill out a team, but we definitely lost some great leaders last year,” Karr said. “I’m anticipating I will have to do some recruiting on the boys’ side once school gets started.”
That won’t be an issue on the girls’ side. Steenhoek is the leader but the Mustangs also bring back senior Margo Chipps and sophomores Riley DeVore, Sophia Steenhoek and Jillian Fairbanks from last year’s varsity roster that ran at the state qualifying meet.
Junior Taryn Steenhoek and freshman Tiffani Koonce are expected to challenge for varsity spots.
After the first few weeks of practice, Karr said Paige Steenhoek is the team’s No. 1 but Koonce has moved into the second spot.
Sophia Steenhoek, Taryn Steenhoek, Chipps and DeVore are battling for the next four spots. Junior Delaney Baird, freshman Kaitlynn Smith and Fairbanks are fighting for the final varsity spot.
“We like to let things play out and worry about results later in the season,” Karr said. “It won’t be any different this year, except I think our results will be a bit more serious towards the end of this season. They’ve been consistent and working hard since July. We’ll just keep working hand try to continuously improve throughout the season.”
Karr expects Paige Steenhoek to improve a lot from last year. She was running cross country for the first time as a freshman and was even being held back at times by Karr.
That won’t happen this fall as Karr is prepared to loosen the reigns on his top runner. Steenhoek begins the season ranked 29th in 2A.
“Paige has been working hard. You have to remember last year was the first year she ever ran cross country,” Karr said. “She understands the sport better now and has the experience. I held her back a bit last year because of it being her first year, so I can’t wait to see how much better she can be.”
Steenhoek’s third-place finish in the Heart of Iowa Conference meet helped the Mustangs place third as a team. The good news is, the two teams ahead of PCM — Gilbert and North Polk — are now in a different conference.
West Marshall joins the HOIC for all sports this fall and the Trojans begin the girls’ cross country season as a “team to watch” in 2A.
“On the girls’ side, we placed third behind Gilbert and North Polk, so obviously we’d like to go win it this year,” Karr said. “However, adding West Marshall will give us a challenge as they edged us at state qualifying in Williamsburg.”
DeVore placed 11th and Chipps was 12th in the conference meet.
Webb was 21st at last year’s HOIC meet as the boys’ team finished sixth in the final standings. Gilbert and North Polk also went 1-2 in the boys’ race.
“North Polk and Gilbert went 1-2 so again we are getting rid of two very good teams,” Karr said. “The boys were able to edge West Marshall at state qualifying though.”
The boys’ team lost four varsity runners, but Padget and Sanders are back. Karr expects Webb to make a serious push for the state meet.
“Beau has also been consistently training. I know he continued to run throughout the spring, and he badly wants to qualify for state,” Karr said. “I think his body is ready to be pushed, so I will be pushing him a lot more in training this year. I don’t believe in high mileage for most high school kids, but I have definitely increased his mileage this year. Kyle and Garin have been working hard, too.”
All cross country teams will try to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Practices can be done in a socially distanced manner to a certain extent, but Karr knows cross country meets will be challenging to pull off.
“Everyone seems to think cross country is a socially distant sport, but I don’t see it that way at all,” Karr said. “If you go to a cross country meet, you will see runners side by side racing each other, huffing and puffing the entire way. In fact, I want our runners to be in a pack together.
“The spectators are literally all over the course cheering and screaming, too. They will be right in the faces of the runners. Hopefully everything will work out and fans can just stay back a bit.”