Not that there was any doubt, but Perry’s sending sophomore Jaylene Karolus to the state cross country meet again. After taking 70th overall last year as a freshman at the state competition, Karolus enters with even higher expectations with an improved time at the qualifying meet Thursday, Oct. 24 at Alantic.

Crossing the line ninth overall among the 75 runners, Karolus clocked a time of 20 minutes 21 seconds. That shaved off 23 seconds from her time last season in Glenwood where she took 10th place. Now she looks to make further improvements next weekend at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge where she placed 70th with a time of 21:05 in 2018.

Perry head coach Ryan Marzen said it’s been impressive to see Karolus’ time improve since last year. Heading into the race Thursday, he said he didn’t tell her that she needed her best time. He said he hopes that can come Saturday in Fort Dodge.

The two will train together up until the meet, starting Friday with some light work followed by days on the track and rougher terrain to keep her conditioning up. With that, Marzen added it’s been nice to see Karolus use running spikes, which he said has helped her times on hills, and hopes that can improve her work next week. Last year she was running with heavier shoes before making the change to spikes for track season, which she also qualified for the state meet.

Marzen said he hopes her experience at last season’s state meet can help her time as well as help better manage her expectations for the initial pace needed to stay with the pack. He said while the race can’t be won in the first 400 meters, that’s where it can be lost.

Expectations remain high with aims of improving her time and overall placement, but it’s a task Marzen said he knows could fall any number of ways.

At the qualifying race, only five seconds stood between Karolus and the sixth spot. Behind her, only 14 seconds separated the next three placements. Adding to the mystery, three finishers ahead of Karolus were freshmen. There’s a whole new wave of freshmen runners that — as she did in 2018 — will enter Fort Dodge with top times. Of the top 30 class 3A runners, seven are freshman while only five are second-year runners.

Karolus was not the only runner representing Perry at the qualifying meet, however. The Jayettes were repped by Kennedy Tunink (25:05), Molly Luther (25:50) and Hannah Peterson (27:12). With only the top 15 runners moving on, Karolus was the only qualifier as Tunink was next in line at 55th overall.

The Bluejays boys were also repped with seven total runners. Anthony Chavez (18:58) came in with hopes of breaking through to make it as a freshman but was the 38th runner to cross. Had he finished with his time from the conference meet the previous week, he would have moved up only one place.

Another 29 spots separated Chavez from the next Bluejay as Hayden McFarland (20:22) took 67th overall. Perry occupied half of the last dozen runners as well.