FALL SPORTS PREVIEW: Panther girls look to defend their state titleBoys seek return trip to state
With the way the Pekin Panthers have been known to run, this could be just another one of those years.
For the fourth time in six seasons, the Pekin girls won the Class 1A state title in 2013. Led by then sophomore Gwynne Wight, the Panthers smoked the field by 32 points to earn first.
The No. 1 rated girls’ team in Class 1A (for complete rankings turn to page 15), the Panthers return their entire starting lineup from their state run with the exception of Samantha Wright, who graduated. Sophomore Bonnie Becker, who was running with the varsity team in 2013 before getting hurt two weeks prior to districts, will likely fill the void in the starting lineup.
The Panthers continued their running dominance during the spring in track & field events. Prior to the postseason, the Pekin girls won every single track meet they participated in. Now it’s time for cross-country again, and Pekin is poised to make another run at a title.
Gwynne Wright finished fourth overall at the state meet with the time of 15:17. After an amazing spring on the track, she’s poised to lead this team back to state once gain. Wright is also healthy this time around, where as last season she missed time with a broken bone in her foot.
Shea Dahlstrom will join her in the lineup. Dahlstrom finished seventh at state last season and will join Becker as the only sophomores in the varsity lineup. Tayler Winn, Taylor Lock, Sloan Reighard and Payton Lock are all juniors and will round out the starting order for the Panthers. Each of these runners is extremely strong and finished 62nd or better at the state meet.
“The thing that will help our girls this year is the competition from the other schools, as well as within their own team,” said Davis Eidahl, who’s entering his 52nd year of coaching the team.
The top four teams in Class 1A last season, Pekin, Pocahontas Area, Central (Elkader) and South Winneshiek, will return most if not all of their starting lineups from the 2013 state meet. Pocahontas, which finished second, started five freshman last year, meaning the odds of it being an improved team are extremely high. The road for Pekin, in other words, will be dicey.
Don’t forget that the boys qualified for the state meet last season as well. Austin Fariss led the team at Fort Dodge last season with a time of 17.11 (11th place) and he returns for his junior season. Clayton Essary and Christian Little were two seniors on the squad in 2013, but the rest of the team is back for a repeat attempt at making state.
In addition to Fariss, the boys’ team will have four of its top runners back this year. Ryan Millikin, Malcolm Myers, Avery Bennett and Nate Kielkopf ran in the state meet and return. Rounding out the starting lineup will likely be freshman Sam Roth, who was one of the top three runners at the junior high state meet last season.
The Panthers will likely start slow and then peak right when they need to, which is around the first week of October when they travel to the Iowa City High School meet.
“We had a good week of camp and all the runners got a good base,” Eidahl said. “One thing that we always tell our runners is [to] not run too much, too fast, too soon. Be patient.”
2014 Pekin Cross Country Varsity Schedule
9/4 @ Wildwood Park (Ottumwa)
9/9 @ Lake Keomah (Oskaloosa)
9/11 @ Fairfield Invite
9/22 @ Albia
9/27 Pekin (Lake Darling)
9/30 @ Iowa City West
10/2 @ Iowa City High
10/9 @ SEISC Meet
10/16 Pekin (Lake Darling)
10/23 State Qualifying
11/1 State Meet (Fort Dodge)
Head Coach: Davis Eidahl, 52st season
Key Returnees: Girls – Gwynne Wright (Jr.), Taylor Lock (Jr.), Sloan Reighard (Jr.), Shea Dahlstrom (So.), Tayler Winn (Jr.), Payton Lock (Jr.), Boys – Austin Fariss (Jr.)