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To state: Girls look for great finish

ANAMOSA– The setting is similar, as Solon takes aim at the 2012 Girls Cross Country State Meet Saturday at Fort Dodge. The team leader board is juggled a little, over last year’s team and individual finishes. However, a veteran Spartan lineup knows what to do; to improve on last year’s– and 2010’s– fourth place finish.
And they remember that only the top three teams are invited out on the deck overlooking the crowd to receive their trophies.
Heading into that final meet, Decorah and Heelan top the 2012 rankings. Pella and Dubuque Wahlert– with first and third place state finishes in 2011– hold at eighth and sixth this fall.
Davenport Assumption– the Class 3A runner-up last year– is ranked third going into the state meet. Solon goes in ranked fourth. The two schools have gone head to head three times this season, with Assumption on the up side each time, but not by much. The Knights don’t have dominant runners to compete with the Spartans’ Lauren Benzing and Alex Smith. However, their top five crowd together, in the lead pack. “We need to stay healthy and be tough; break into (Assumption’s) pack. We have to push to get some runners up there,” assessed Benzing.
A push like that would slice the Lady Spartans point total, sliding closer to the top of the leader board, too. Senior Mallory Carr has pictured such a finish coming on since the first meet of the year. “We all want to run our best personal races. That would be something to advance the team. I want to push the team… myself, as well; to stick together, to move up together,” stressed Carr. “Sometime this week, we will sit down as a team; be realistic about who is there, what to watch for, who to go after.”
“Our goal is definitely to get on that deck,” explained Benzing.

Second at regionals gets girls to state
It was a cold, rainy path to state for the Solon girls; their 10th consecutive trip to Fort Dodge. They claimed runner-up Oct. 18 at the state qualifying meet near Anamosa, to grab one of the three team berths. Assumption’s 41-point low total left them with the meet title. Solon’s 64 was well ahead of third place finisher Fort Madison and the rest of the 15-school field.
The weather slowed the pace over the 4 kilometer course around Central Park Lake where Solon’s Benzing holds the record. Her 15:42, was under her best, but still a half-minute ahead of anyone else in the sloppy conditions. “Mostly the wet and muddy course (bothered us),” said Benzing. “It slowed me down a lot, down the hills. You had to be careful at this one; the most important meet of the year.”
Benzing remained unbeaten on this course, her fifth time out. Sophomore Alex Smith crossed the muddy finish line fourth (16:23) with junior Tayvia Hansen stepping up to the No. 3 team slot, crossing 17th overall (17:24). Seniors Bailey Kelsay (20th, 17:27) and Carr (22nd, 17:32) wrapped up the scoring. Sophomores Molly Walkner (24th, 17:34) and Katie Folkerts (34th, 17:57) backed them.
Coach Emy Williams noted the wet conditions, but then looked ahead to the season finale; especially for a plan to run past Assumption. “They looked very good. To beat them, we will have to break their pack up with our pack,” said Williams. “We do have experience (at State) with our senior leaders and Tayvia. That does help because it isn’t so scary for all of them. They also can help calm the first year runners’ fears.”