FORT DODGE, Iowa — With about 200 meters to go, Rebekah Topham started racing herself.
The Griswold junior was already well in front of Sibley-Ocheyedan’s Leah Seivert on the homestretch of the four-kilometer race at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course. But moments before capturing her third Iowa Class 1-A individual state cross country title Saturday afternoon, Topham glanced at the clock and realized she could finish with her best state time yet.
She picked up her pace slightly to finish in 13 minutes, 57 seconds — two seconds better than when she won in 2011 and eight seconds fewer than last year. The mark was the best among any female running on the chilly and sun-splashed day.
“I was just trying to beat Leah,” Topham said. “Then my dad (assistant coach Jeff Topham) told me I had the fastest time of all the classes and I was pretty excited.”
The top-rated Seivert finished runner-up to the younger and second-rated Topham for a third straight season, crossing 14 seconds behind her friendly rival. Despite nursing an injured left foot with “off and on” pain, Topham took the lead about 800 meters into the run and cruised the rest of the way.
“I ended up passing her earlier because I felt like the pace was slowing down,” Topham said. “I thought, ‘I may as well go now.’ I was thinking my dad could be mad at me later if I lose.”
The win puts the Griswold standout one victory from making Iowa girls cross country history. She joins four other female prep runners to claim three state titles. No one has won four.
Still, Griswold coach Jane Chaillie said, Topham never talks about individual accomplishments.
“She just keeps plugging away. But the best thing about Rebekah, though, is those things don’t matter to her,” Chaillie said. “It’s about her team and how she performs and she’s laughing and having a great time the whole time. She’ll just continue to strive and work hard.”
Topham shone as western Iowa’s lone victor of any kind Saturday. Griswold, the defending state champ, settled for seventh in the 1-A girls team race with 204 points. Leah Lappe, usually the squad’s No. 3 runner, was injured during the meet and finished 125th.
Of the seven Tigers who made the trip, five are juniors and two are freshmen.
Council Bluffs St. Albert’s girls came in eighth with 214 points in their first state appearance since 2008. Freshman Jacey Martin crossed in 16:31 for the group’s top spot at 47th.
“It’s awesome,” Martin said. “I love the atmosphere up here and it always seems like everyone’s cheering everyone on.”
Another pair of western Iowa girls earned 1-A medals in Nodaway Valley’s Destiny Scar (eighth) and Tri-Center’s Michelle Mumm (ninth). Southwest Iowa’s Mackenzie Hulsing (14th), Audubon’s Megan Deist (25th) and Woodbine’s Megan Maaske (27th) weren’t far behind.
Exira-EHK took 12th of 15 teams in the girls team standings. Junior Grace Hoflen led the Spartans by taking 32nd.
On the boys side, Riverside barely missed a top-three finish — and the accompanying plaque and traditional celebration on the clubhouse deck. The Bulldogs put up 167 team points to snag fourth behind third-place South Winneshiek (157). Two-time defending state champ St. Albert (sixth, 175) and Boyer Valley (seventh, 179) also finished in the top half.
Brady Ryun paced Riverside with a 29th-place showing, followed by teammate Tim Brink in 37th. Seniors Ryun and Brandon Sipherd end their careers as four-time state qualifiers.
“They really set me up as a coach to have success,” Riverside coach Alex Oliver said. “With the struggles some young coaches go through trying to build a program, for me it’s been a pretty easy ride having high-caliber kids who want to be here.
“The boys wanted to (be on the deck) to go out this season, but they were a little bit short today.”
St. Albert’s Max Ross (40th) led the Falcons ahead of co-runners Gus Doll (44th) and Fred Hug (48th). Doll and non-scorer John Theulen (102nd) are the team’s two seniors.
“I think it’s fair to say — and I probably would reflect what most the guys would say — is that it wasn’t our best day,” St. Albert coach Bob Weidman said. “All in all, we still seemed to get better as the season progressed. It just didn’t turn out like we all hoped it would today.”
Chase Bonsall was Boyer Valley’s best placer Saturday, taking 23rd. Along with fellow seniors Joseph Grady and Jake Weber, he helped guide the Bulldogs to their first-ever state trip in cross country.
“It was pretty fun,” Bonsall said. “We expected to make it. Here we wanted to keep it same old, same old.”