FAIRFIELD — The North Polk girls showed why they are one of the premier cross country programs in the state after winning the Class 3A state qualifying championship at Fairfield Oct. 18.


The Comets, rated 10th in 3A, scored 63 points to edge out No. 11 Grinnell (75 points) and No. 12 Solon (76) for the team championship. All three teams qualified for the state meet this Saturday in Fort Dodge.


North Polk prevailed despite having only two seniors competing at the meet. Two of its top three runners were freshmen.


“It is difficult to ride a bus for that long and come off of it feeling ready to race,” North Polk head cross country coach Steve Leach said. “I’m sure the extra travel time also gave some of the girls too much time to think and worry. I was concerned they would be flat since they hadn’t raced in fourteen days, but it all worked out in the end.”


North Polk had four runners place in the top 15, which qualified them individually for state. The fifth and final scored runner also placed in the top 20.


“I thought the girls ran a great race as a team,” Leach said. “Their depth was on full display.”


Freshman Aleah McBee took advantage of a strong start to lead North Polk for the first time this season. McBee crossed the finish line in 20 minutes, 8.60 seconds to place eighth overall.


“She went out faster than normal and hung on,” Leach said.


The Schaffer sisters — junior Sophie and freshman Lucy — were the next two Comets to finish. Sophie took 10th in 20:25.70 and Lucy just managed to cross the finish line — falling down coming across the line — in 12th place with a time of 20:31.90.


“It has been great to see (Sophie) healthy this season and returning to the form she showed as a freshman — she ran a really smart, under control race,” Leach said. “Lucy has been very consistent all year long. She was very nervous and may have also been a bit under the weather.”


Kennedy Wendel was the final Comet to qualify individually. The senior took 14th in 20:33.90.


“She has developed into a very consistent runner, who is currently running with a lot of confidence,” Leach said.


Sophomore Abi Zimmer wasn’t far from the qualifying pack as North Polk’s final runner to score. Zimmer ended up 19th in 20:51.60.


“This was the most complete race of her high school career,” Leach said. “This may be as close as she has ever been to the top four runners on the team.”


Addie Cooper, another sophomore, came in 26th in 21:02.20. Senior Emily Patterson continues trying to recover from a knee injury as she took 27th in 21:03.10.


“Addie beat Grinnell’s fourth and fifth runners to help secure our victory,” Leach said. “Emily is a cross country warrior who hasn’t run more than two miles since the Saydel meet, but she is still one of our seven fastest girls.”


Grinnell’s Mary Blanchard — the No. 18 runner in 3A — was the girls’ individual champion in 19:17.70. Mount Pleasant’s Abby Ryon, ranked seventh, finished second in 19:23.80.


In the boys’ competition, North Polk score 269 points to place 11th out of 13 teams. Clear Creek Amana — the No. 4 team in 3A — won the boys’ title with 37 points, No. 3 Marion placed second with 60 points and No. 10 Grinnell was the final team to qualify for state with 85 points.


“The boys were in a terribly competitive race and they got swallowed up by better talent, but I believe they will be much improved very soon,” Leach said. “As a whole, the boys didn’t attack the first mile as aggressively as they did at Saydel. It is hard to play catch-up when the rest of the field ahead is of such high quality.”


Junior Gabe Drake continued to pace the Comet boys, placing 36th overall with a 5-kilometer time of 18:34.64.


“Gabe is making very good progress,” Leach said. “He is starting to get a vision for the kind of runner he could become. He will hopefully run in the 17’s next season.”


Seth Subra placed 51st in 19:07.90, Noah Church 56th in 19:17.82, Will Lesher 62nd in 19:26.99 and Sam Carstensen 64th in 19:28.51 as the other runners to earn points for North Polk. Nathan Crabb came in 69th at 19:51.37 and Bryce Houser 75th in 20:24.11.


Mount Pleasant’s Cody Mertens — the No. 2 boys’ runner in 3A — won the individual title at Fairfield in 16:10.09. Clear Creek Amana’s Jack Sexton — rated 18th — came in second with a 16:39.51 showing and Grinnell’s Chris Guise placed third in 16:48.61.


The state coed cross country meet takes place this Saturday at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The 3A girls’ meet is set to begin at noon.


Final team scores


Girls: 1. North Polk 63 points, 2. Grinnell 75, 3. Solon 76, 4. Davenport Assumption 102, 5. Marion 106, 6. Mount Pleasant 120, 7. Fairfield 236, 8. Washington 243, 9. Central DeWitt 244, 10. Clear Creek Amana 251, 11. Fort Madison 263.


Boys: 1. Clear Creek Amana 37, 2. Marion 60, 3. Grinnell 85, 4. Fairfield 143, 5. Mount Pleasant 156, 6. Solon 174, 7. Davenport Assumption 208, 8. Central DeWitt 224, 9. Fort Madison 231, 10. Washington 241, 11. North Polk 269, 12. Notre Dame/West Burlington 354, 13. Keokuk 433.


Individual results (5-kilometer) — North Polk


Girls: 8. Aleah McBee, 20:08.60; 10. Sophie Schaffer, 20:25.70; 12. Lucy Schaffer, 20:31.90; 14. Kennedy Wendel, 20:33.90; 19. Abi Zimmer, 20:51.60; 26. Addie Cooper, 21:02.20; 27. Emily Patterson, 21:03.10.


Boys: 36. Gabe Drake, 18:34.64; 51. Seth Subra, 19:07.90; 56. Noah Church, 19:17.82; 62. Will Lesher, 19:26.99; 64. Sam Carstensen, 19:28.51; 69. Nathan Crabb, 19:51.37; 75. Bryce Houser, 20:24.11.