WARDSVILLE - Blair Oaks cross country coach Marc Keys is expecting a free-for-all in today's Class 2 state championships, and he thinks the Lady Falcons have a shot at improving on their sixth-place finish last season.
"I think the overwhelming favorite on the girls side will be Fatima, but I think the next three places, anywhere from seven to eight teams could fill those," Keys said. "So that will be nerve-racking for all the coaches and athletes, and I'm sure that'll be communicated to the kids. It will be exciting to see how things turn out. It should be a good day, a little bit breezy and cool, but we'll welcome the challenge."
Fatima ran away with first place in Class 2 last year with 43 points, and Blair Oaks finished sixth with 164. Keys' goal for his girls team is to finish in the top four, a spot the Lady Falcons missed by 14 points in 2013.
"What we're looking for overall, if we can get all five of our finishers between 30th place and about 60th place and ... sort of pack them in within about a minute of finishing time, I think we'll do pretty well, get top four," Keys said.
Keys also hopes to have one runner qualify for state by finishing in the top 25.
That all-state finish for the Lady Falcons could come from any one of Blair Oaks' top three runners this season: freshmen Kasey Kerperin and Kristi Wortmann and sophomore Taylor Scott. The three have traded places all season as the the Lady Falcons' best finisher.
"All three of them during the season have been our best runners, so that's encouraging," Keys said. "They've been finishing very close, so that's fun to watch."
Scott is one of three Lady Falcon runners, including sophomores Shaley Eichholz and Rachel Isenberg, who bring state experience to this year's meet.
As for the boys, each of the two Falcons who will compete today have state experience. Junior Jason Otto's best state finish came last year when he came in 17th, and Nick Yaeger's best state result was a 43rd-place finish in 2012.
"Both of these guys have been at the state meet three times, so you talk about both finishing in the top 25," Keys said. "They're certainly capable."
Keys thinks their experience will pay off.
"You have fewer unknowns," he said. "Sometimes if you've been there a lot, there is an expectation to do well. Sometimes that expectation can cause you not to have a good performance, but I don't think that will be the case. I think they're prepared and ready to have a good time and race well together."
Keys said in addition to earning all-state honors once again, Otto hopes to finish in the top 10 this year.
Otto and Yaeger qualified for state by surviving a tough district in which Fatima and Linn advanced as teams. Blair Oaks and Russellville failed to send teams to state, but Keys said each of the top four teams in Class 2 District 4 have the talent to finish in the top 10 in the state.
"Everyone knew that coming in, and you just do the best you can," Keys said. "You can't really pick your district. ... Fatima and Linn, they beat us. It's not like they messed up, so I'm OK with that."
Blair Oaks has had a chance to run at the Oak Hills Golf Center this season, so the Falcons will have some familiarity with today's race.
"Going to the state meet, it won't be totally new," Keys said. "You know where the hills are, where the turns are and a little bit of what's going on."