It's been a dream season so far for the Fatima boys cross country team, and the Comets are hoping they don't wake up until today is finished.
The Comets are a perfect 11-for-11 this season, having won every meet they've entered. If they can make it a dozen, they'll have their first state cross country championship.
Fatima will take part in the Class 2 state meet today at the Oak Hills Golf Center, and they'll be looking to cap off an impressive trend.
The Comets, who are making their 17th trip to state, have qualified for the last six championship meets. Starting with a 12th-place finish in 2008, they've climbed to ninth in 2009, sixth in 2010 and third the past two years.
"They had pretty strong offseason in terms of training this past summer," Fatima coach Marcus Bridges said of his runners. "They dedicated themselves back in June to placing higher at state than last year.
"They just started coming in and working out hard. That's part of it, but the raw talent, you can't overlook that. It's a very talented group."
The Comets, who were also undefeated going into state last year, are continuing a recent run of impressive athletic accomplishments at Fatima. Just last school year, the school won state titles in volleyball and baseball.
"The expectations are there," Bridges said. "When one sports program does well, the rest want to follow suit. We've had success in track and field, then cross country and volleyball and soccer and baseball, it just kind of snowballed. Everybody wants to have that success and all of them have started working hard."
Leading the way for the Comets are three all-state performers. Hunter Hennier, a sophomore, was fifth as a freshman last year; senior Ross Schanzmeyer is a two-time all-stater after finishing 11th last year and 10th in 2011; and Tom Zeilman, who was 53rd last year, was all-state in 2011 after placing 16th.
Others running at state include sophomores Cody Huhn and Caleb Schroeder, junior Austin Muenks and senior Noah Thoenen.
"I like our chances if we can just run like we're capable," Bridges said. "Honestly, it's just doing the same things we've been doing week-in and week-out. We need to maintain contact with each other - we have a team that can pack run real well. ... They just need to control their tempo in first mile and don't get caught up in craziness."
The Fatima girls have had almost as good a season as the boys, as the Lady Comets have won 10 of the 11 meets they've entered. The lone blemish came at the Fulton Invitational, where Fatima took second to Helias.
Bridges said he had a feeling in the offseason this could be a good girls group.
"We had some really good returners coming back in seniors Alexis Peters and Abby Sturtz and Ashley Reinkemeyer and junior Riley Caminiti," he said. "They're all very good athletes and good runners.
"Then over the course of the summer, we brought in three freshmen - Madison Day and Anna Massman and Katie Fechtel - who worked extremely hard. As the summer was coming to an end, I knew what we had."
And if the Fatima boys pack run really well, the girls might do it even better.
"The key on the girls side is depth - we're seven deep, not four or five," Bridges said. "That's evidenced by (finishing in spots) two through eight last week at districts. That's really solid."
The Lady Comets, who have never finished higher than seventh at state, are making their 13th trip to the championships. They're coming off a ninth-place finish last year after coming in 13th in 2011.
Also competing in the boys portion of the meet as a team is Southern Boone. Running for the Eagles, who are making their first team appearance at state since 2006, are Maguire Scheer, Sam Bowles, Chris Edwards, Peter Oleski, Jared Thomassen, Kennan Atteberry and Dowd Nathan
Competing as individuals for California are Adam Burkett and Zach Merrill.
Running on the girls side as individuals are California's Katie Imhoff and Leah Korenburg and South Callaway's Taylor Howard and Andrea Rodriguez.
Don't be surprised if the Class 1 boys race today ends up looking a lot like the Class 1 District 3 meet held last Saturday in Westphalia.
That's because two teams with title aspirations, Russellville and Linn, emerged from an extremely tough race. Russellville captured the title with 42 points, Linn had 47 and New Haven, which will send four individuals to state, was close behind at 52.
"The boys' race was a nailbiter," Russellville coach Craig Miller said. "When you have what could have been three of the top four teams in Class 1 racing for two spots in our district, every place counts.
"We knew Linn and New Haven were solid teams and we had to race our best to get through. ... We have to turn around and battle Linn again (today) at state, with a little more on the line."
The Indians are led by junior Alex M. Thompson, who earned all-state honors last year by finishing ninth.
Others who competed at state last year, when Russellville came in ninth in the team race, include Matthew Fringer (80th), Alex D. Thompson (sr., 104th), Nick Haslag (106th) and Jamie Porter (108th). The squad is rounded out by Anthony Bertucci and Caleb Nichols.
Linn, which is seeking its sixth state title (with the last coming in 2011), finished second last year. The Wildcats are making their seventh straight trip to state and 25th overall.
Those competing for Linn are Chase Jones, Greg Spillman, Noah Voss, Ethan Grellner, Joey Nilges, Jacob Voss and Cameron Laughlin.
The only other area boy competing in the Class 1 race is Vienna's Chandler Harker, who took fourth at state last year.
In the Class 1 girls race, the Russellville Lady Indians are making their sixth straight trip to state. After finishing second in 2010 and 2011, they finished second last year.
Those competing today for the Lady Indians are Grace Young, Miranda Hill, Taylor Young, Hannah Michitsch, Addie Kirchner, Erica Miller and Mary Potts.
"A state trophy for the girls might come down to how our No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 runners place at state," Miller said. "If they run a great race, we have a shot."
Other area girls taking part in the race are Chamois' Autumn Baker, who earned all-state honors by finishing 13th last year, Linn's Harley Nale, New Bloomfield's Sydni Bedsworth and Vienna's Abbi Kern.
Note: The California Democrat contributed information to this story.