Panthers run away with another state championship

Published on November 2, 2011 in the Sigourney News-Review, Keota Eagle and What Cheer Paper

The Pekin girls cross-country team has become something of a dynasty in class 1A over the past four years.

During that timespan, the Panthers have won three 1A state championships (2008, 2010, and 2011) and were runner-up by just three points in their one season in class 2A (2009).

"It just means that we have good girls," said head coach Davis Eidahl. "Basically my job is to get the girls to the meets. It says a lot for the girls to be able to keep repeating. It's tough and it gets tougher every year, but they started out on the first of August and that's what they wanted to do and they got the job done."

The victory marks the first time the Pekin girls cross-country team has ever won back-to-back state championships.

"It is really challenging and hard," Celsey Conger said. "You don't want to be cocky about it, but you know that you have to win and you have to keep it up. If you don't, second place isn't fun. We have been there before and it's not good."

Pekin ran away with the team title this season, winning by 56 points over second place Earlham. The Panthers only bested the Cardinals by 10 at the qualifying meet in Knoxville a week ago.

"We weren't that much better than everybody, but we were prepared when we came today," Eidahl said.

The Panthers top state finisher for the past four seasons, Celsey Conger, entered the race ranked third in the state individually and had aspirations of winning the individual state title this season after a second place finish a year ago, but she ended up with a time of 14:42 and a third place finish overall (second place in the team standings) behind Rebekah Topham of Griswold (13:39) and Leah Seivert of Sibley-Ocheyedan (14:31).

"I wanted to do better, because it was my senior year, but there were a couple other good girls here this year and I guess they wanted it just as bad as I did and they got it," Conger said. "That's alright."

It would have taken a herculean effort to beat the freshman phenom Topham, who's time of 13:59 on Saturday in Fort Dodge was the third fastest time run by a girl in any class in the state meet's history.

Conger got out of the gates fast and set the pace for the girls in the early going. She got off to a lead early, but Topham and Seivert caught her around the one mile mark. While Topham ran on ahead, Conger and Seivert battled closely throughout the course.

"It was a lot different race than the last couple years because I think I started out faster than I normally do," Conger said. "It was tiring, it was fun though."

Celsey's twin sister Brenna Conger was the next Panther across the finish line, finishing 14th overall and in eighth place in the team standings with a time of 15:20. The

Conger sisters finish provided the best one two punch of all 15 teams at the meet, but it was the performance by the Panthers next three finishers that really separated the Panthers from the pack.

Maleaha Earnest finished 19th, Samantha Wright finished 22nd and Brandy Millikin came in 24th to round out the Panthers impressive score. McKenna Gambell and Monica Cooley also ran for Pekin but the team score only includes each schools top five runners.

"We got the two Congers who got up there high, but the key to it was our three, four five, six runners," Eidahl said. "The other schools runners were back but ours were right up in there in a group. That is what we tried to emphasize all year."

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