After a rare absence from the state meet, the Central DeWitt boys and girls cross country teams have something extra to chase beyond the finish line.

The Sabers’ return to Fort Dodge.

Both squads have their share of experience.

That is especially true for the Central girls who return eight runners with varsity experience, including six who took part in last year’s 3A state-qualifying meet.

Seniors have led the way.

Carly Small already has one trip to the state meet to her name after finishing 73rd as a sophomore.

Small ran a season-best 21:26 at the WaMaC meet during last year’s junior season and is already surpassed that clocking after running 21:07 at the Lancer Invitational.

The Sabers’ top finisher at the WaMaC meet last fall was Kyleen Irwin, who ran a season-best 20:49 to finish 16th overall.

Back for her senior campaign, Irwin has already dropped more than 40 seconds from her season-opening clocking.

Hannah Payne saved the best performance of her junior season for the end as she clocked in at a season-best 22:22 at the state-qualifying meet.

Now a senior, Payne has dropped her time in each of her first three meets this fall.

Juniors Kami Zeimet and Brynn VanHorn combined to run in 17 varsity races last season, including both the WaMaC and state-qualifying meet, while sophomore Mason Lange made an impact at the end of her freshman campaign, running in Central’s final four meets.

The Sabers have received early lifts from new faces, too. Junior Madi McAvan has competed in each of Central’s first three varsity races and freshmen EmmaGrace Hartman and Reagan Hofer have also seen varsity action.

Add in fellow returnees Anna Fielding and Colleen Klostermann, and a talented group of freshmen, and the Sabers girls have the ingredients for October success.

The Central boys graduated four of the seven runners they had competing at last year’s state-qualifying meet, but have a number of young competitors ready to step up.

Senior Tanner Naeve was one of just two Sabers to compete in all 10 meets last season, and posted the team’s top time at both the Schoolhouse Open and Tipton Invitational.

Junior Jack Campbell has broken 21 minutes in each of the Sabers’ first four meets, while sophomore Blake Gerard accomplished the feat for the first time in a varsity race (he competed in three varsity races as a freshman) at Tipton and was even better at the Lancer Invite.

Sophomore Briar Baxter and freshman Matthew Watters have stayed closed in the early season, finishing just one second apart at the Schoolhouse and with the exact same time at Tipton.

Senior Brandon Burken and Karsen Kettwick, meanwhile, both return after competing in the state-qualifying meet.

Burken ran in seven meets during his junior season and has lowered his time in each of the Sabers’ first three meets. Kettwick posted the best of his four varsity times as a junior at the state-qualifying meet (and has already finished under that clocking this fall).

Fellow senior Ezra Onken, meanwhile, has competed in a pair of varsity races.