FORT DODGE - They’ve been the two crown jewels of the Iowa High School cross country season all fall long.
Central City’s class 2A No. 2 ranked Emily Staal and Mid-Prairie’s No. 1 Marie Hostetler. The pair have been among the top runners in Iowa this season regardless of class, and they faced off one final time as high schoolers at the state meet in Fort Dodge Saturday, Nov. 2.
“I knew it was going to be tough to beat her, after she beat me at Monticello earlier this season, but I was just going to go out there and do the best I could,” said Staal, who wrapped one of the greatest cross country careers in Iowa history with a second-straight class 2A state runner-up finish crossing the line with a time of 18-minutes, 39.3-seconds.
“I was able to run with her (Hostetler) at the beginning, and I was running okay and feeling good, but then she just took off and I couldn’t keep up with her. I’m walking away from my high school cross country career pretty happy though.”
As she should, Staal is leaving high school as one of the most decorated cross country runners the state of Iowa has ever seen.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach some very talented runners during my 14 cross country seasons, but none as much as Emily” said Springville-Central City cross country coach Steve Pershing, who watched as Staal finished second to Hostetler’s 17:58.2 clocking winning her third straight individual state championship.
“As an eighth grader, I knew she was going to be a great runner even though she didn’t win a race. Her work ethic and drive to improve said everything. This was important because I don’t think she said more than a dozen words to me that season. I knew she was going to be another one of my top runners, but little did I realize this shy and quiet girl would develop into one of the state’s best cross country runners.”
It’s that work ethic that has allowed Staal, who claimed the class 1A state title as a sophomore and who was second to Hostetler last year as a junior, to have so much success.
“Pretty much at the end of every one of my high school seasons I’m ready to be done, and I am again this year too,” she said. “I’ve worked hard and trained hard and done everything I can to be the best that I can. Now, it’s time for a rest.”
Staal has also decided to continue her cross country career at the collegiate level spurning the likes of the University of Iowa to run with her sister (Janelle) at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri.
“I’m going to run with my sister,” Staal said. “I’m pretty excited about it too. There were some other schools wanting me to come run for them, but I pretty much had my mind made up when Janelle went down there last year that I would follow her.”
The legacy Staal leaves behind with the Springville-Central City program is enormous.
“It’s been a fun four years,” Staal said. “I’m going to miss my coaches and my teammates, but I’m ready to take that next step with my running career.”
Pershing appreciates how far Staal has come in that incredible four-year run.
“Midway through her freshman season she found her confidence and started competing with the leaders,” Pershing said. “At her first conference meet, she demonstrated just how dominant of a runner she would become by dominating the field and leading the team to its first conference team championship.
“She followed this up by finishing second at the state qualifier and leading the team to its first appearance at the state meet where she medaled in 12th-place.”
As a sophomore Staal took off into a new stratosphere.
“She spent most of her sophomore year chasing CP-U’s Adrianna Katcher,” Pershing said. “All four times they faced off Katcher got the upper hand, but each time the difference between them shrank. After dominating the conference and qualifier, Emily led the state 1A race start-to-finish.”
As a junior Staal and the Springville-Central City program jumped to class 2A, which meant a showdown with Hostetler.
“The move to 2A brought Emily and Marie Hostetler on a collision course at the season’s conclusion,” Pershing said. “Emily needed the race of her career to beat Hostetler at the state qualifier meet and did it, finishing in 17:34.9, which was the fastest 5K girls time ever.”
Staal’s senior year played out much like her junior one, with dominating success and a showdown with Hostetler at the state meet.
Staal defeated Katcher (the 3A state champion) numerous times this past season, and often by almost a full minute too, another testament to her dedication to the sport and phenomenal talent.
“Her only second-place finishes as a senior were to eventual state champions (Hostetler and Ames’ class 4A state champion Camille Jackson),” Pershing said. “Her dominance can be demonstrated by an average winning margin of over a minute.
“Like all of my other top runners, coaching Emily was easy. She learned quickly what was necessary to be the best and focused on it in every practice every day. A runner like Emily often comes along once in a coach’s career. I hope I’ll get the privilege to coach another cross country runner with the same physical, emotional and mental gifts as Emily. Either way, I am proud to have coaches one of the very best.”