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IOWA CITY — It feels a little like old times.
In a 10-year glory run from 1997 through 2006, Iowa City High and Iowa City West combined for every big-school state championship in girls’ cross country. The landscape was dominated by runners like Jennie Funk and Nelle Trefz from City, Jeni Frudden and Sarah Wickman for West.
It was a spirited — and sometimes heated — rivalry, one born from mutual excellence.
“The intensity of the rivalry has always been there,” City High Coach Tom Mittman said. “It hasn’t had the same edge lately that it had 10 years ago, but it’s still there.
“I’ve never had to say much to get the girls excited to run against West.”
City High won the championship in 2006, the most recent title by either team. The Little Hawks were runners-up in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but neither team has been in the top three since.
“Back then, we were both ahead of the game,” West Coach Mike Parker said. “Then the rest of the state caught up.”
City High edged West by one point at state last year — for fourth place. Both are well fortified to move up the ranks and make a championship chase, just like old times.
In the preseason state rankings, released Tuesday by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches, City High is rated No. 2 in Class 4A, behind Pleasant Valley. West is No. 3.
“We know West will come into the season in amazing shape,” Mittman said. “And we feel that we should be good, if we stay healthy. But nobody has run a race yet.”
Both teams have an ace. West’s Bailey Nock (now a junior) was seventh at state last year in 18:41. City’s Mary Arch was ninth in 18:46. Arch is a senior who plans to run at the University of Iowa after high school.
City High has a typically large roster — about 75 girls in all. Among them are all seven that ran at state last year. Emily Bywater was 29th, Anna Lindower 30th, Mollie Hansen 39th.
“We’ve all worked really hard,” Arch said. “I think the sky is the limit for us.”
Nock leads a pack of five West returners.
“We’re not a deep team,” Parker said. “We’re going to have a good top five.”
That would be seniors Olivia Moore, Jessie Skopec, Gabby Skopec, and juniors Nock and Claire Ronnebaum. It’s important they all stay healthy.
“If we get to the starting line (at state), we’ve got a shot,” Parker said.
Nock was third at state as a freshman, then came on late last year after coming back from a stress fracture.
“Right now, I’m going strong,” she said. “This summer was the best summer I’ve had for training. Last year, I wasn’t getting much mileage.”
The top five 4A individuals from last year’s race have graduated. Nock and Arch are two of the top three returners.
“Lord willing, I’d like to be on the balcony again at state,” Arch said.
That privilege goes to the top 10 individuals and the top three teams. Arch and Nock should be there again on Oct. 29.
And so should their teams.
“That’s the hope,” Mittman said. “There are some other teams that will have a say, but barring injury, we should be two of the best.”
The first meeting between the two teams is Sept. 8 at the Cedar Rapids Invitational.
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