CEDAR RAPIDS — Jack Pendergast has a vision.
He sees the Cedar Rapids Prairie boys’ cross country team on the Lakeside Golf Course clubhouse deck on a Saturday afternoon in early November, a top-three trophy in tow.
He sees the girls’ team there too.
“I think it can happen,” he said.
So does Carli Reittinger.
“We want to get to the same level as the boys,” she said. “We want to get back to state, and we don’t just want to show up.
“We want to get on that deck, and we are capable of doing it.”
There’s a boys’ team. There’s a girls’ team. But now, in the eyes of the 100-plus runners that will represent Prairie this fall, it’s one big unit.
Take note of the program’s Twitter account: @pxcunited.
Bill Schwarz has made the Prairie boys’ program one of the best in the state; the Hawks have been on that Lakeside deck six times since 2009, a run that includes 4A state championships in 2010 and 2013.
Starting this fall, he is in charge of the boys and the girls.
“I watched Todd Goodell do it for years (at Linn-Mar), and I could’t figure out how he did it,” the 57-year-old Schwarz said.
“(Athletics director) Rocky (Bennett) brought it up, and I figured, ‘Why not?’ I knew the (girls’) coaches, and they did a fantastic job with that program. I can’t say enough about Corrie (Enyart).”
At latest count, there were 75 boys and 55 girls in the program.
“We want all of them,” Schwarz said. “If they’re not out for something else, they should be out for cross country.”
While the boys are state-meet regulars, the girls just got their feet wet for the first time last year. They placed eighth in their state debut; the boys finished sixth.
“It’s a lot more intense this year, a lot more miles,” Reittinger said. “But I think it will be good. I think we’ll surprise some people.”
All seven girls return from last year’s state team, led by juniors Kendall White (16th) and Laurdyn Meyer (47th). Reittinger is the lone senior.
“I’m so impressed with the girls’ work ethic,” Schwarz said.
The boys’ team is more experienced, with four varsity seniors back. Pendergast was the state runner-up, and leads a strong pack of Metro boys that also features Jacob Green of Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Dylan Dolezal of Linn-Mar, plus Cedar Rapids Washington’s Lewis Kleman and Max Locher.
“I love being challenged by tough competition,” Pendergast said. “The other day, (Dolezal, Green) and I went for a run. At meets, though, it’s extremely serious, and I love that.”
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Cross country at Prairie is serious, yes, but it’s also enjoyable. Capture The Flag is a staple, at least once a week. Catch a football game at John Wall Field on a Friday night, and it’s likely you’ll also catch the cross country teams playing Ultimate Frisbee after everybody else has gone home.
“We’ve got a number of goals, and No. 1, it has to be fun,” Schwarz said. “If you’re not enjoying it, you’ve got to find another fit.”
The Hawks open the season Saturday with their home invitational.
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