Kelsey Kupka set a goal early this fall and she accomplished it last month at her final two high school cross country races.
The South Tama senior capped off her final season as a Trojan at the Iowa State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge on Oct. 27. She accomplished her goal at the Class 3A District Meet in Pella the week before, as she finished sixth and qualified for her first-ever state meet.
"The girls weren't going to be as strong as they had been the last two years," STC coach George Kuhter said. "We were looking for little accomplishments. I felt bad for her when she didn't qualify as a sophomore. Last year, she ran hard but had a down year. She continued to run well and she made it a goal to make it to state and she accomplished that goal."
South Tama senior Kelsey Kupka, center, smiles before starting the Class 3A cross country meet at Fort Dodge Oct. 27. Kupka finished 64th in the race as she finished the 4-kilometer course in a time of 16:11. She was the lone qualifier for the Trojans.
Kupka finished 64th in the 3A race of 126 girls. Her 4-kilometer time was 16:10, which was one of her best time this season.
"She finished right in the middle of the race," Kuhter said. "She was right in the middle of the pack, so that's good. You want to be in the top 50 percent your first time at state.
"For being at state her first time, it's an overwhelming deal," he said. 'It's the largest cross country meet she got to run in. She ran really well and she ran her second-fastest time of her year. She handled the pressure really well. It was a goal of hers to get there, she got there and she ran well, so everything was a bonus."
Kupka's state performance capped off an up and down season for the Trojans. Kupka, along with juniors Taylor Ellenbecker and Erin Filloon, were the only returning varsity runners from the 2011 squad. The Trojans graduated the top two runners from a year ago, leaving several varsity spots up for grabs this fall.
Those spots were filled by junior Regina Balderas, senior Natasha Musgrave and senior Grace Kavalier at the NICL meet. Sophomore Ericka Dunning, Diahana Puentes and Naomi Hoskey also saw time on the varsity squad, but battled injury or sickness this fall. The STC girls finished fifth at the NICL meet.
"I'd say this year was kind of a rebuilding year for the girls," Kuhter said. "We lost four of our top seven and we were going to take a hit there. We had other girls that stepped up. We didn't finish every meet where we should have finished, but we finished well enough that I can be proud of the girls for how well they ran."
On the boys side, South Tama graduated its top runner - Brandon Nelson - from the 2011 season. However, the boys had several returning runners from the varsity squad. Freshman Blake Keller also made a difference for the Trojans as he became one of the top three STC runners mid-season. The Trojans placed third at the conference meet.
"Expectations were a bit down for the boys," Kuhter said. "Looking back, we should have probably contended a bit better for the conference title. We were 12 points out of first place. That's the difference between having a solid No. 4 and No. 5 guys and having your No. 4 guy miss three weeks in the middle of the season, because of family issues.
"I'm perfectly happy with a third and fifth-place finish in the conference," he said. "Everything else being equal, we are where we want to be in this conference."
Both squads should continue to be successful next fall. The girls squad will lose Kupka, Musgrave and Kavalier, but bring in several freshman who competed as middle schoolers this fall. The top three eighth grade girls from this season were Lauren Yuska, Jensen Vodochodsky and Allison Yuska. Kuhter looks for those three to make an impact and help the core of returning Trojans next year.
"It's going to be all coaching next year," Kuhter said. "The middle schoolers that are coming up are not going to have too much time to dink around at the JV level. I will probably race them in the JV race the first race and then in the freshman race at the next Marshalltown meet. After that, we might throw them in the deep end of the pool and see what happens.
"This is a group that knows what to expect and they know what the standard is," he added. "We have our largest number of girls coming in that will contribute the next four years. Keeping them healthy, focused and on track is going to be our biggest job, because we know they can be successful."
South Tama's boys team loses senior Brady Ellenbecker and James Norton from this year's roster. Ellenbecker was one of the Trojans top-three runners, while Norton was often the fifth or sixth runner. Coming in to help the Trojans will be current eighth grader Hunter Filloon, who finished ninth at the NICL meet, which was his final meet of the season.
The top two returning runners for the boys are sophomore Robert Tyynismaa and Keller. Both should be amongst the top runners in the conference next fall.
"On the boys side, we lose Brady and James, but we replace them with Hunter," Kuhter said. "It's going to have to be more of a one, two and three running closer together and knowing what the expectations are for the season. We will need some kids to step up, too.
"Robert is going to keep improving," Kuhter said. "As long as he stays healthy, he is going to be good. We got him for track season. Blake will be wrestling in the winter and he'll have to get stronger to wrestle. Any strength he gains in the winter and spring, will be a benefit to his cross country season."