STATE CROSS COUNTRY: East Marshall girls better their mark, notch 11th

FORT DODGE – For Haley Fye, it was about getting a second chance.

For Kristen Amendt, it was making the most of a final opportunity.

And for the Mustangs as a whole, Saturday’s 11th-place performance at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course resulted in the program’s best finish ever.

Making its first trip to the big stage in eight years, the 13th-ranked Mustangs tallied a score of 242 to leave their mark in the school record books.

Fye battled side cramps in her first trip to Fort Dodge as a freshman, but entered her second trip a stronger and savvier runner after a solid summer of training. The 28th-ranked sophomore improved 30 spots from last fall to claim 18th in 15 minutes, 55 seconds.

Having one state race under her belt helped Fye keep an even-keel approach.

“This race went a lot better for me. I just tried to stay consistent throughout the race and keep positive thoughts,” said Fye. “I loved having the experience to share with my teammates.”

Kristen Amendt placed 37th in 16:19 for her third appearance on the state course. Though as a senior, this one took on a deeper meaning as she and her teammates approached the starting line.

“Right before they called us down to our (starting) box, it just hit me,” said Amendt of the realization she was soon to start her final cross country race as a Mustang. “That’s what kept me motivated through the whole race. Toward the middle when things got tough, I knew it was my last one and I just had to give it my all.”

Amendt’s freshman sister, Bobbi, finished 15 spots behind her in 16:28, while Carrington Curphy (87th, 17:22) and Brooke Bouton (110th, 18:28) also figured into the top quintet. Megan Pansegrau (113th, 18:32) and Kaylee Howe (122nd, 21:34) also competed for the Mustangs.

“Haley looked a lot more relaxed today and has improved tremendously,” said East Marshall coach Erik Niggemyer. “A lot of it is just the confidence and knowing she belonged up here.”

Following Fye’s lead, the rest of the Mustangs used a strong second halve to boost the team past the previous school-best performance of 12th.

“They started a little conservative at the beginning but they just got stronger as the race progressed,” said Niggemyer of his squad. “They were able to catch people and that just led to our best finish ever. They did everything we asked of them today. They ran their race.”

Top-rated Gilbert won the team title with 59 points, to hold off No. 2 Unity Christian (76) and No. 3 Cascade (95). Gilbert’s Grace Gibbons cruised to the title in 14:28 – 33 seconds ahead of Cascade’s Becca McDermott.