FORT DODGE — Any future plans for Fairfield High School cross-country runner Ashley Bloomquist will have to wait.
For the Trojans' standard-bearer that last three years, there is no time like the present.
Bloomquist will take one last 3.1-mile jaunt around Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge today in her final state meet in a Fairfield uniform. The three-time qualifier has improved steadily each of her last two trips to state, narrowly missing Class 3A all-state status (top 15) last year by six places. It's a course that has treated her well in the past.
"It's a little bittersweet, but I don't take anything for granted," said the soft-spoken Bloomquist, who has notched a pair of top-35 finishes the last two years at state. "There aren't too many hills on the course, but the last half-mile to a mile is pretty fast."
Last year, Bloomquist methodically worked her way to a 21st-place finish, and she has confidence going into this year's meet. She ran a strong fourth at the state-qualifying meet at Waterworks Park, her home course, against some elite 3A runners.
"I was really excited about that, because I knew it was going to be a fast race," said Bloomquist, who prides herself on a gritty mentality to offset any speed deficiency. "It was a race I was looking forward to, especially at home. It's a course I understand."
Whether she attains the all-state goal is still to be determined, but Bloomquist's impact on the program is immense, and that is not lost on coach Jerrod Belzer.
"She's really set the tone for both of our teams the last three years," he said. "She's shown a lot of maturity this year, and she's just in a different place this year with her confidence. She's not going to run an 800 in 2:16, but she's a lot like (Steve) Prefontaine. The whole race is 100 percent of what she has."
Ottumwa's Alli Bookin-Nosbisch and Carollin Mellin also are peaking at the right time. The junior duo has run up front in just about every meet this season, and is coming off top-10 finishes in the Class 4A state-qualifying meet at Indianola, which came on the heels of a 1-2 finish at the CIML Metro meet in Des Moines.
After finishing 34th and 35th, respectively, at state last year, the hopes are high for an even better performance.
"They've both gone through some things this year that they've battled, and now is the time they need to take risks," Ottumwa coach Angela Chaney said. "There are a lot of fast girls in 4A, and the competition this year may be a little better. I can see them in the top 20 or 25."
That place range could be the floor of their potential, depending on how they start the race, Chaney said. A fast start could push them toward the top 15, because both have excellent foot speed to chase down competitors.
"The finish to the race is brutal," Chaney said. "But the girls are similar in how they start and how they finish. They have an unexplainable kick. Carollin's big push comes in the last 1 1/2 miles, while Alli makes hers in the last 800 meters to a mile. But which ever one is already going, that will pull the other along."
While Bookin-Nosbisch, who is now a three-time state qualifier, dealt with a physical ailment (asthma), Mellin's challenges came from a leadership standpoint. She's had to take charge for a team that lost one of the top runners in the state, and she's emerged as one herself.
"It's just been a different role for Carollin, especially running ahead of Alli," Chaney said. "Their roles have been back and forth all season, but along the way their mental toughness has been impressive. They know it's going to hurt, but they do it anyway."
This could be the meet where Pekin comes of age. A roster with a blend of experience and a talented freshman group will get another chance in the state meet. The Panthers have been a deep team all season, and the first-year runners have risen to the challenge. They'll need to do it one more time.
"They know they didn't run real well at districts, but I really think they're capable of getting in the top four," Pekin coach Davis Eidahl said. "They're in good condition and I just think they're going to run well. They've faced good competition all year. I think they'll make a good showing."
Last year the Panthers were 10th in Class 1A, but they've won four state championships since 2008. That probably won't be in the cards this year with talented Logan-Magnolia, Iowa City Regina and Kee teams in the hunt, but the Panthers can make a statement that they'll be a formidable foe once again.
"It'll come down to how they warm up," Eidahl said. "Then it's just going out there, running relaxed and having fun. They've gotten stronger, but we've never focused on the past. If we keep our focus ahead, that pays off."
Maybe no area team was more shocking than the Albia girls. Unranked all season in Class 2A but competitive in many meets, the Lady Dees broke through with their first trip to state as a team since 2010.
Albia had a strong sixth-place finish by Sherryl Mae Rowe at the Panorama state-qualifying meet, which triggered a third-place finish as a team.
"It was a shock to the system, but also a huge relief. It was their moment," said Albia coach Todd Ratliff, who will guide both of his teams in Fort Dodge. "The main feeling I have is pride and excitement for them. This is something they'll remember. They were able to celebrate together, and that's something no one can take away from them."
Still, there was a sense of confusion for Ratliff during the meet. Both Treynor and Greene County had similar uniforms, making it difficult to score runners.
"When it ended, I didn't think we realistically did enough to qualify," he said. "I knew we'd be close with Chariton (separated by five points). I never expected our team to be called by the time they got to the top three teams."
Van Buren freshman Faith Neeley is coming off a strong run in the 2A meet at Tipton, with her 13th-place finish sending her to the state meet for the first time. She's Van Buren's first state qualifier since Morgan Croft in 2015, when she also was a freshman.
However, while many competitors will be positioned to continue their careers at state in the future, Bloomquist will not. This is it.
"I look at this as having some of the best years of my life," she said. "Getting in the top 15 is going to take everything I have, but I'm willing to give it."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury.