STATE CROSS COUNTRY: Redhawks’ Watson nabs all-state medal again

FORT DODGE – Abi Watson may have flown a bit under the radar in her first trip to state.

Though after a 10th-place finish to cap her sophomore season and a dominant junior campaign, the sixth-ranked Redhawk wouldn’t be surprising anyone this year – including herself.

Entering her second trip with an extra level of confidence, the North Tama junior followed up with a fifth-place performance to earn her second all-state honor in the Class 1A girls portion of the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships Saturday.

Watson covered the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in 15 minutes, 7 seconds – backing up her all-state outing from 2012.

“Last year was just kind of fun. This year is was fun, but I knew that I actually could do it,” said Watson, who wouldn’t simply be satisfied with another trip atop the awards stand.

“This year I wanted to do better.”

Boxed in initially, Watson got out to a quick start to avoid getting trapped later. Used to running out on her own in several races this year, the junior steadily reeled in the competition ahead of her closing strong down the homestretch.

“I thought I could do it and dig deep again, and I did,” said Watson, who keyed off Eagle Grove’s Tiffany Christensen, who placed sixth in 15:15.

Watson had raced against the senior before and pulled away from Christensen late to secure her position.

While Watson has another season ahead of her, she’s treating each race with the same level of urgency and that strategy didn’t change Saturday.

“I always run each race like it’s my last.”

South Tama County senior Taylor Ellenbecker took her final race as a prep her first at state – in stride with a 44th place clocking of 16:23 in the girls 2A race.

The Trojan made her move around the mile and half mark in the hills, what she considers her strong point, before kicking it in to the finish line one last time.

While her time in the Trojan blue is done, Ellenbecker isn’t ready to hang up her spikes and is looking to pursue cross country in college.

“I’m not ready to give something up like this just yet,” said Ellenbecker, who is currently considering Coe College, Luther College, Buena Vista University and Briar Cliff University.

“It’s going to be rough not wearing the Trojan blue but I know everything (Coach George) Kuhter taught me is really going to help next year.”

Griswold’s No. 2 rated Rebekah Topham claimed top honors in Girls 1A in 13:56, while Sibley-Ocheydan’s top-ranked Leah Seivert was second in 14:10. No. 3 ranked Pekin took the team title with a tally of 81 and No. 1 Pocahontas Area was second at 113.