Entering last year’s state cross country meet, not many people knew about Evan Mahler.
A year later, Mahler returns to the state meet for a fourth straight time and the Highland senior won’t be sneaking up on anyone today.
Mahler finished 37th and 86th in his first two trips to the state meet before jumping all the way to third last season as a junior.
He enters today’s state meet at the Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge ranked fourth in Class 1A, and Highland coach Angela Strobel expects to see another, albeit it smaller, climb in Mahler’s placing.
“He made such a big improvement last year and he has been slowly getting faster times,” Strobel said. “He is there to compete and he is going to do whatever it takes because he just has this mental toughness about him that he is there to win it. That’s what he has in mind and he’s going to do whatever he can. He’ll leave it all out there.”
Mahler finished 37th in his first trip to the state meet as a freshman before dropping to 86th his second season.
Last year, he was third in 16:41 and is hoping to jump two more spots today.
“That’s my final race and I’m excited for it,” Mahler said. “I just want to make that last race the best race I run in my entire career.”
Bellevue junior Andrew Meyer, whom Mahler edged by two seconds for third at the state meet last season, is the top-ranked boy in Class 1A and finished 28 seconds in front of Mahler at the state qualifying meet.
Mahler’s teammate, Keiffer Sexton, returns to the state meet ranked sixth in the Class 1A individual rankings after a third-place finish at the state qualifying meet.
Sexton placed 33rd last season as a sophomore.
“I’m always pushing Keiffer because he sometimes doesn’t realize how good he can be,” Strobel said. “I’m always putting his goals a little higher and I expect him to be in the top 10.”
Sexton has benefited from competing against Mahler each day in practice, while Mahler said the emergence of his teammate as a state challenger has helped him improve.
For Strobel, the luxury of having a pair of top-10 ranked runners is one she hasn’t had often, but has been invaluable.
“It really helps because even at practice and no matter what meet we go to, there is always going to be some competition,” Strobel said. “We can provide our own competition for those guys every day.”
The eleventh-ranked West High boys team will face a tough task today as the Trojans attempt to improve on last year’s ninth-place finish.
West igh is led by senior Akash Borde who, ranks ninth in Class 4A and is coming off a first-place finish at the state qualifying meet in Cedar Falls on Oct. 23rd.
City High senior Joel Bender qualified for the state meet as an individual and is ranked 29th.
The City girls extended their impressive run of state meet appearances to 27 and will attempt to improve on last season’s 13th-place finish.
City enters the state meet ranked 13th in Class 4A and has a pair of runners in senior Molly Shepherd (18) and sophomore Mary Arch (20) ranked in the top 20.
The Mid-Prairie girls team, led by freshman Anna Hostetler, qualified in Class 2A.
The Golden Hawks are ranked eighth entering the meet, while Hostetler is 10th in the individual rankings.
Reach Ryan Murken at 339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AREA STATE QUALIFIERS
• Class 4A (11:30 a.m.) – West High; Joel Bender, City High.
Class 2A (1:30 p.m.) – Jared Draper, Mid-Prairie.
Class 1A (2:30 p.m.) – Evan Mahler, Highland; Keiffer Sexton, Highland; Kirby Shetler, IMS.
Class 4A (11 a.m.) – West High; City High.
Class 2A (1 p.m.) – Mid-Prairie.
Class 1A (2 p.m.) – Renee Buckwalter, IMS; Riley Schmieder, IMS.