Jamestown High School runner Meghan Ford has been trying to think about anything besides one of the biggest cross country races of her young career Saturday.
"I've just been trying to stay distracted and not worry until the day of," Ford said on Thursday. "I've been focusing on school and practice each day."
The sophomore is arguably the favorite in the state Class A girls race at Parkhurst Recreation Area just north of Jamestown, after being the top-ranked runner all season and winning all eight races by no less than 45 seconds. Saturday's four state championship races get underway at 11 a.m. with the Class B girls and boys, followed by the Class A girls and boys starting at 2 p.m.
"I feel pretty good right now," Ford said. "My practices haven't been going exactly how I want but everyone feels tired this time of the year."
Ford has been sticking to a certain mile pace since her first race at Parkhurst back on Aug. 25, where she beat Thompson's Lana Krack by her smallest margin of the season. Ford ran a new personal best of 17 minutes, 20.51 seconds on Sept. 6, which was fifth nationally at the time.
"I wasn't really expecting the season to go as well as this," Ford said. "I'm pretty excited to compete at state. Everything can happen at state so I'm not expecting anything and just hoping to finish out strong."
Blue Jay cross country coach Ken Gardner and Ford have been sticking to a pacing plan so she doesn't overexert herself early in races. This is similar in a sense to when she stayed in second place during the mile at state track last spring, before sprinting ahead late for the victory.
"She won't be able to win the race during the first mile," Gardner said. "If she runs a fast mile the rest of the race will be tough. If Meghan runs the race like she has all season she'll be successful.
"The biggest thing is to stay mentally positive and not worry about what everyone else is doing."
Coach Gardner added a 1,000-meter, uphill loop to the course this year so the run is completed without any overlap. When the state meet was at the same location in 2016, there were issues with kids being lapped.
"We try to make things different each time we have a state meet," Gardner said. "The first time it was a newer course so there was more mowing and I dragged it a few times over the summer. We're getting there and added that 1000-meter loop and we continue to be working on that."
The only scare this season was when close to a foot of snow hit the course back on Oct. 10, which forced the West Region meet to relocate to McDowell Dam in Bismarck. The snow has since melted with temperatures hovering in the 40s and 50s after the early, cold white stuff.
"It dried out pretty good but was pretty soft before that," Gardner said. "We did a little dirt work and just let it dry out."
If Ford is able to win today, she would be the first Blue Jay girls champion since Jennifer Falk back in 1998. Since 1979, Jamestown winners include: Jenny Schmeichel (1986, '90), Laurie Fox (1993-94), Jessica Schweitzer (1996) and Falk.
"Similar to what we talked about at WDA is this race isn't about your final time but it's about place," Gardner said. "I told her to go do what she's been doing all year."
Huber also favored
Edgely-Kulm's Isaac Huber, the top-ranked Class B runner, is also feeling the pressure as this will be his final chance to win a cross country state title before graduation.
"There's some nerves because I never had an opportunity to win a cross country title before," Huber admitted on Friday. "But I have to zone in and feel confident in my body during the race."
Huber's had a stellar 2018 after winning Class B state titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meters last spring. The senior has won 5 of 6 races this fall, while missing some time with plantar fascia.
"I think the biggest difference is I have more experience than my freshman year and there's also a lot of good senior athletes wanting to push me."
Some runners looking to make a run at Huber are New Town's Javien Hale and Robert White, ranked No. 2 and 3 respectively.
"They are two really good runners," Huber said. "They always have something in the bag, after racing them over the last few years."
"Hopefully I stick with the pack and we'll see who has the most gas left at the end."
Huber's race will get underway at around 11:45 a.m.
"I think the biggest thing is having fun," Huber said. "It's the last meet of my high school career so I have to stay relaxed and focused."