116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WELLMAN — Cross country isn’t a marathon. But, as Mark Hostetler learned the hard way, it certainly isn’t a sprint.
“My senior year at (Lowpoint-Washburn High School in Illinois), I was at the state meet and ran the first mile in 4:43,” Hostetler recalled. “I finished 25th.”
Maybe that’s why his teams at Mid-Prairie High School use the smooth-and-steady approach rather than storming out of the gate.
Take last year’s state meet, for example. Back in the pack, the Golden Hawks looked very ordinary at the half-mile mark. But looks were oh, so deceiving.
Individually and collectively, they weaved their way through traffic as the race unfolded. Led by individual champion Danielle Hostetler, Mid-Prairie had four runners in the top 11 and won its fourth consecutive Class 2A state championship, by 62 points.
“Cross country teaches you to be patient,” senior Mitzi Evans said. “It’s best to not go out and beat yourself up at the beginning and feeling bad at the end.
“And passing people gives you a natural boost.”
With the top four runners — and six of the top seven — returning, Mid-Prairie is heavily favored to make it five in a row in late October. If it happens, the Golden Hawks will join Iowa City High (1989-93) and West Des Moines Dowling (2007-11) as five-time winners.
But, as Coach Hostetler was quick to point out, nothing is in the bank yet.
“Any time you take your foot off the gas, there are other teams ready to take over,” he said. “Williamsburg and Tipton are going to be very good competition.”
And yet, the Golden Hawks are clear frontrunners, if they stay healthy and run to potential. Senior Jaden Yoder, their No. 2 runner last year at state, is recovering from a stress fracture in her left fibula and will miss the first couple of meets, at least.
Yoder, and her twin Sydney, made a big jump last year. They didn’t go out as freshmen, then joined the team as sophomores. Sydney was 33rd and Jaden 63rd at state in 2019.
“It went really well, so we stuck with it,” Jaden said. “We really upped out training, and that’s what really did it.”
As juniors, Jaden was third at state, Sydney 11th. That’s the kind of leap that keeps a powerhouse rolling.
“If you can get one kid to work hard, maybe she gets a friend to do it with her,” Coach Hostetler said. “Then they get a whole team to do it, and those that don’t, they become the exception.
“Cross country can be hard to sell, that this is so much fun. There has to be a camaraderie. If they get that, they’ll do anything. That’s the key.
“The expectation I have is that if anybody works hard, they can beat anybody that doesn’t.”
And that’s the theme when you talk to the Golden Hawks. They don’t talk about another state championship. They talk about working together, hanging out together, making memories.
“I really like feeling a spirit from my teammates,” said Evans, who was eighth at state last year. “We’re all just a team. We work together, and when you do that, everything comes together.”
Of course it helps when you have an ace on the team, and Hostetler’s daughters have won five consecutive individual state crowns. Anna Hostetler was the champion in 2016, then Marie won three straight (2017-19).
Last year was Danielle’s year, as a freshman.
“My sisters taught me to work hard. They’ve showed me that if I work hard, the rewards will come,” Danielle said. “I’m pretty determined. I hate to get beat. I like to be trained so I can be the best I can be.”
That training includes running with the Mid-Prairie boys’ team, a fine team in its own right; it was sixth at state last year.
In a time trial the first week of practice, only one of the boys outran Danielle.
“They’re good to me,” she said. “They treat me like I’m their little sister.”
The Golden Hawks open their season Saturday at the Cedar Rapids Prairie Invitational. Big meets at Pella and Waverly come later.
“We want to put them in races in which we’re running in a big group, so we’re not intimidated by that,” Coach Hostetler said.