Look, we could speak in cliches when it comes to Wednesday’s Class 3A state qualifying cross country meet at Spencer Municipal Golf Course.

It’s anybody’s ballgame, so to speak.

You never know what’s going to happen when the runners hit the course.

Nothing is a given.

That’s all true, of course, but the reality is this — our No. 1-ranked boys’ and No. 2-ranked girls’ teams will be the favorites when racing gets underway at 4 p.m. Heavy favorites, actually. The type of favorites where it’s almost unthinkable that another team could sneak up from behind and pass them on the final leaderboards.


That’s what happens when you put a regular season together the way the Tigers have this fall. They’ve been dominant, capped by last week’s sweep of the Raccoon River Conference championships. Of the 15 ranked individuals in the two races on Wednesday, nine of them will wear Gilbert uniforms.

Understand now?

The top three teams and top 15 individuals in each race will advance to next week’s state meet at Lakeside Golf Course inside Kennedy Park on the outskirts of Fort Dodge. Twelve other schools — Algona, Sioux City Heelan, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, Denison-Schleswig, Humboldt, LeMars, MOC-Floyd Valley, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Sioux Center, Spencer, Storm Lake, and Webster City — will join Gilbert on Wednesday.

Other ranked girls’ teams include: No. 10 Sioux Center, No. 12 MOC-Floyd Valley, and No. 15 Heelan. Also ranked on the boys’ side are: No. 10 MOC-Floyd Valley and No. 18 Sioux Center.

With such lofty expectations comes the pressure to perform, but Gilbert head coaches Laura Kautman and Aaron Thomas embrace that pressure, and so do their pupils.

“Pressure is a privilege, and we’ve earned that privilege with how we’ve raced all year long,” Kautman, the girls’ head coach, said. “We are the favorites and we like that at this point.”

“If we do what we’re supposed to do, we should be fine,” Thomas, the boys’ head coach, said. “There are a lot of teams there that we haven’t seen, but regardless of who is and isn’t there, we just want to race well so that we can build that confidence for the state meet.”

Thomas’s club possesses six of the eight ranked individuals in the field, led by the underclassmen trio of freshman Logan Bleich (ranked No. 5), freshman Jacob Tallman (No. 9), and sophomore Carson Squiers (No. 13). Bleich and Tallman went 1-2 at last week’s conference meet, and Thomas says there hasn’t been a stage that has been too big for them this fall.

“They don’t seem like freshmen,” Thomas said. “We’ve run at big meets, like at Heartland or conference or Ballard, and they really haven’t let the moment get to them.”

Senior Zain Mueller enters the postseason ranked No. 15, sophomore Preston Stensland sits at No. 24, and senior Harrison Kraehling is No. 27.

Emmett Barber, a junior who was also ranked at various points throughout the season, will round out the roster.

Thomas sees Wednesday’s run as just another step toward the ultimate goal, which is a state championship 10 days later. But first things first on a flat Spencer course that should produce some fast times.

Fittingly enough, the last time Gilbert ran a state qualifier on the Spencer course was during its state championship 2017 season.

“When we went there in 2017, we ran well and had some fast times,” Thomas said. “As long as it’s not windy, you’re going to run fast on that course and it builds confidence for state.”

Freshman Emee Dani (No. 19-ranked), sophomore Keira Andersen (No. 20), and senior Clare Stahr (No. 25) spent the regular season swapping the team lead for the Tiger girls, and that competition at the front of races has fueled the team’s success. Dani emerged as the front-runner late in the season and challenged the school’s 5K record — she fell just four seconds short — en route to a runner-up finish at the league meet.

That friendly competition will likely continue on Wednesday.

“When you have competitive people, you’re always going to have that,” Kautman said. “That pushes them to be better, and that’s why we’ve had the success that we’ve had. When the race is over, they high-five each other and they hug each other.”

Dani, Andersen, and Stahr have forced their teammates to move faster as well, something that was apparent at the RRC meet when the Tigers put all seven runners in the top 17. Freshman Callie Hales, junior Abby Patel, sophomore Maggie Danilson, and junior Sophia Bleich will look to continue to show that talented depth in Spencer.

“We’ve been more effective this year with front-running than maybe we have been in the past,” Kautman said. “All year long, our mentality has been you belong. We run and race with confidence, and that’s not going to change going into the postseason.”

Denison-Schleswig junior Lola Mendlik is the highest-ranked girl in the field at No. 18.

We’ll be in Spencer on Wednesday for the state qualifying meet. Look for updates once the races end, and plenty of photos following the completion of the meet.

Go Tigers!