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PREP GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY | TOP OF IOWA CONFERENCE

Depth powers Knights to fifth straight team title; Johnston claims first TOI individual crown

Mike Schutt has praised how deep this year's version of Newman Catholic is. It has just two upperclassmen after stalwart No. 1 runner Maggie McBride that make up the two-through-seven spots in the lineup.

All of them finished in the top-30 to garner all-conference honors. All of them ran times within three-and-a-half minutes of each other.

It was more than enough to keep the streak alive Thursday afternoon.

The Class 1A No. 10 Knights put together a 57-point performance to win their fifth consecutive Top of Iowa Conference title at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC).

"We're pumped," McBride, a senior said. "The past couple of weeks, everybody has been really pushing it and everybody has been cutting at least 30 seconds off their time."

Garner-Hayfield-Ventura edged 1A No. 20 West Fork 75-86 for a runner-up finish. Nashua-Plainfield (96) and Osage (119) rounded out the top-five with Forest City and West Hancock finishing seventh and eighth, respectively.

Green Devils junior Katelyn Johnston never trailed in her first career conference title in 18 minutes, 54 seconds. That time was more than 70 seconds in front of runner-up Lili Nelson of Forest City.

It is a rebound from a second-place performance last year amongst just the east division.

"There was a lot of people pushing me," Johnston, the conference's girls runner of the year said. "It was disappointing, especially being on my home course. I wanted to do better."

Johnston, ranked fourth in the latest Class 2A individual rankings, started to separate from Nelson after the opening mile. The gap between the two was 18 seconds then it gradually increased to nearly a minute by the two-mile mark.

It was the third straight race Johnston has ran under 19 minutes.

"I think I've had a pretty good year," she said.

Nelson had no problems with finishing runner-up in 20:13.

"I know I can do better if I had someone with me," Nelson said. "I didn't want to burn myself out in the first half of the race. At that pace, I just couldn't stay. I had to pull it back."

McBride was third in 20:59. Like Nelson, she was alone for most of the race. It didn't bother her as she held firm in her position for the final two miles. Her teammate Kenna Hemann crossed the line in ninth.

"Once I knew the girls were pretty far behind me, I was like 'What do I do now,'" McBride said. "I knew I needed to push."

Newman's pack of Emma Weiner, Ella Petree and Grace Gabriel started to make moves to get ahead of GHV's fourth runner plus the third and fourth runners from West Fork.

Despite the Cardinals putting their top-three runners – Katelyn Knoll, Tessa Fuentes and Chloe Mullenbach – in the top-10, it wasn't enough to hold off the Knights. Weiner, Petree and Gabriel all ran under 22:40 to place in the top-20.

"Second half of Emma's race was unbelievable," Schutt said.

West Fork had two in the top-15 in Kacie Eistentrager (eighth) and Raylynn Nash (11th) as the other two area first-team all-conference runners. The Warhawks coach Mark Twedt was named the conference's coach of the year.

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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