Emmie Skopec thought about the question, then laughed.
The West High senior wasn’t sure off the top of her head how many miles she’d logged during her four-year prep cross country career.
A number? A ballpark, anything?
“A lot,” Skopec said with a smile. “Definitely a lot of miles.”
It’s just as well that Skopec couldn’t produce a specific number.
No unit of measure is going to accurately explain how far she has come in four years, anyway.
During her four years at West, Skopec has gone from a junior varsity runner as a freshman to a three-time state qualifier that enters today’s Class 4A girls race at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge one of the top runners in the state.
“She is such a rare case but what as coaches, we dream of,” West coach Mike Parker said.
“We can stand up in front of our team, three-fourths of them are not varsity runners, have never felt that level of that excitement and they are saying, ‘Can I ever get to there? Can I ever get to be one of the top runners in the state?’ And we can have Emmie stand right there and say, ‘Yes you can. Emmie did it, you can do it, too.’ ”
In a sport filled with naturals and where freshmen regularly make immediate impacts, Skopec fit neither of those roles.
Her first race as a freshman in 2011, Skopec placed 78th at the Cedar Rapids Prairie Invitational — in the freshman/sophomore division.
“Most of our girls, if you are a varsity elite level runner for West High girls cross country when you came in as a freshman, you were pretty good,” Parker said. “To get to that level, you have to be pretty good when you show up. But Emmie, just the complete opposite of that.”
Skopec didn’t quit.
In fact she did the opposite.
She upped her training. She quit staying up and started adjusting her eating habits.
And of course she intensified her training, which consisted of lots and lots of miles.
“It’s definitely a lot of miles, but you have to believe that you can do it because a lot of girls just think, ‘I’m never going to be that good so I’m not really going to try,’ ” Skopec explained. “I always wanted to be one of the girls that was leading the team and in the middle of our circle for stretching, and so I just made that a long-term goal and I kept trying to work toward it every day.”
Skopec’s first goal was to make the varsity team — something she thought was possible perhaps in her senior season.
Thanks to some help from an upperclassman, Skopec made the varsity much faster.
During the season before her sophomore year, former West and current University of Missouri-Columbia runner Ashlynn Yokom gave Skopec some advice.
Skopec took the advice and then took off.
“Ashlynn always said, ‘Don’t be scared to beat me,’ ” Skopec said. “She’d always say, ‘You can run with me and you can run with anybody, you just have to believe.’ ”
Starting that season Skopec started to believe, and the results followed.
She made the varsity top seven and helped West to a sixth-place state finish, placing 57th at the state meet.
Last season Skopec continued her steady progression, running second behind Yokom for most of the season and placing 36th at state.
This season, Skopec made another jump.
She won the prestigious Rim Rock Meet in Kansas and the state qualifying meet last week.
Skopec enters today’s state meet ranked sixth in the individual rankings released by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches.
Although she’s no stranger to the state meet, Skopec still finds herself in uncharted territory.
For the first time in her career, Skopec is the state meet favorite for the Women of Troy, the senior leading a group of underclassmen.
Skopec is finally in the center of the stretching circle and will be coaching freshmen like ninth-ranked Bailey Nock and Claire Ronnebaum the way that past West runners like Molly Leveille and Yokom led her.
“I had great leaders in Molly Leveille and Ashlynn Yokom when I was younger, and I never thought that would be something that I’d be doing,” Skopec said. “I really try to inspire them and tell them, ‘I came from running 18:30 to 14 minutes. So if you are already running 14:40s there are no limits for you.’ ”
Nock and Skopec have the third-ranked Women of Troy expecting big things in their 20th consecutive state appearance.
West put five runners in the top 10 at the qualifying meet and figures to be in the mix for a team title today, along with top-ranked Johnston and No. 2 Urbandale.
“We have ran against Johnston a couple of times and they have shown themselves to be the best team. Urbandale is a great team, as well as Ames and Pleasant Valley, and we are going to get right in the mix with those,” Parker said. “If any of those five teams have a great day, then they will probably be the state champions. And any of those five teams, if you are little bit off, you probably aren’t going to beat the others. That’s just how close we are.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 339-7269 or email@example.com.