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PREP GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY

Cardinals retool lineup around 'competitive' group

Katelyn Knoll

Garner-Hayfield-Ventura sophomore Katelyn Knoll approaches the finish line at the Newman Catholic Invitational on Tuesday at Newman Catholic High School. 

When a program loses not only their top runner, but also a conference champion, it could spell trouble for the following season.

Garner-Hayfield-Ventura is not one of those programs.

The Cardinals have a nucleus of underclassmen, led by returning state qualifier Katelyn Knoll, to build a team that finished second behind Forest City at the Top of Iowa West Conference meet last fall.

That runner-up feeling did not sit well.

"There was a little spark that lit," GHV head coach Emberly Albertson said. "It was a common goal to set our goals high this year. Let's see what we can put together."

The Cardinals finished third in the team race at Tuesday's Newman Catholic Invitational with 104 points. They were one point clear of Iowa Falls-Alden and six clear of the Indians.

If anything, it showed GHV it can beat Forest City.

"We did a lot of running in the summer," Knoll said. "We've been talking about it. I think we can do it. They're competitive."

Knoll was fifth at the conference meet, 10th at districts and inside the top-60 at state. She elevated her training this offseason in preparation for being the Cardinals No. 1 runner.

"I had to believe in myself that I could do it," said Knoll, who placed 10th at Newman Catholic High School in 22 minutes, 8.9 seconds. "I trained for it. There's a lot of good runners on this team and I'll just do what I can."

There was unproven talent behind Knoll when the season started. It isn't unproven anymore after Tuesday's performance.

Freshman Tessa Fuentes crossed the line in 22:51, which garnered her a 12th place finish, and sophomore Chloe Mullenbach finished 15th in 23:20.

It is Mullenbach's first year out for cross country. Her first exposure to running was in the track season this spring. She came to the conclusion that she was good at the sport.

Through one race, she already has a medal.

"I was told I'd be good at it," Mullenbach said. "I'm very proud of myself."

Fuentes and Mullenbach are viewed as vital contributors to what GHV wants to accomplish not only this season, but in future seasons.

"(Tessa) is incredible," Mullenbach said. "She won a lot in junior high. She's going to be amazing."

Albertson agreed.

"I think Tessa has a little bit of an idea about her potential; Chloe realizes she had distance running potential," she added. "There's a lot of learning to do, but after today, they got an idea where they can end up."

When Albertson mentioned that this group is competitive, one glance at the varsity and junior varsity results show why.

Hailey Hanson won the JV race in 24:38, which would have put her as the fourth fastest runner on the Cardinals varsity lineup. Jessica Larson, who placed fourth in JV, would have rounded out the starting seven.

From here on out, Albertson is going to put together the lineup based on time from the previous meet. She expects there to be numerous different lineups used throughout the season.

"This is definitely one of the deepest teams we've had," Albertson said. "They're not afraid to make varsity. A lot of times varsity is intimidating. They're going to be uplifting towards one another."

Which for the Cardinals, they are perfectly fine with.

"We all have a lot of faith in each other," Knoll said.

The Cardinals will race next at 5 p.m. on Tuesday in Belmond.

Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at zachary.martin@globegazette.com and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.

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