BELLEVUE, Iowa — Cell phone service was limited. Internet access wasn't available.

As the Bellevue boys cross country team spent a week this summer training and bonding at Big Horn Mountain in northern Wyoming, it was, more or less, isolated from the rest of the world.

"It was pretty tough because I'm usually on my phone all the time, but it was fun," senior Caleb Kress said. "We had a chance to connect with the wild and have one-on-one time with our friends."

The mid- to late-July adventure, which included a five-mile uphill climb during a day of mental toughness training, united the Comets. 

It has parlayed that into a season of great success heading into Saturday's Class 1A state meet at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge.

Ranked second in the state, Bellevue has its sights set on a second state championship in the past four seasons.

"I think it's safe to say we haven't run our best meet yet," coach Scott Jess said. "Hopefully, that's going to be at state."

That's a scary thought for the opposition given Bellevue's dominance the past two weeks.

The Comets had four runners in the top seven at the River Valley Conference meet to win by 40 points over Class 2A top-ranked Mid-Prairie.

At the state qualifier, Bellevue had five crack the top 10, and its team score of 23 was 82 points better than runner-up Starmont.

"The most important thing for us to remember is to keep a strong and positive mindset," junior Kyle Guenther said. "We've done the training. We've just got to keep our mind strong during the race."

Even with Eli Witt, one of the team's top runners, out for most of the season with injury, Jess calls this group the most talented one he's coached.

"We saw this coming if they put in the work," Jess said. "We don't have the two frontrunners like that '14 team (Andrew Meyer and Andrew Segalla), but we have such a nice pack of kids and depth."

Kress and freshman Brady Griebel traded wins at the conference and district meets. Junior Alex Reed was third at districts followed by Guenther (seventh) and junior Jack Sieverding (10th). 

The separation between Bellevue's top five runners at districts was 38 seconds, something they'll need to duplicate at state to dethrone two-time defending champion Nodaway Valley.

"Our group is so diverse," Guenther said. "We have a lot of different types of groups of friends. We're not always together outside of school or in school.

"When we run together in practice, we all click. I think it has been important having that diverse group of people to run on a team."

The bonding came during their summer trip, which included a stopover at the Black Hills in South Dakota. 

Other than driving 15 miles to a lookout point for cell service a couple times during their stay at Big Horn, phones were silent. 

Jess said it might have been the hardest on one of his young assistant coaches.

"He was probably the most distraught because it was his birthday and he wasn't getting his Facebook props," Jess said. "It was nice because when we sat around the campfire, there wasn't a bunch of heads looking down at cell phones.

"We had a lot of good conversations."

With a mixture of grade levels on the team, Kress said it allowed him to get to know his teammates on a deeper level.

"That trip brought us all together," he said. 

Griebel wasn't there. He was running at a national track and field meet.

Even so, Griebel, who just started running in seventh grade cross country, has evolved into one of Bellevue's top runners.

"At first, I was a freshman and didn't know if I was going to stay on the varsity," Griebel said. "I've been able to stick up there.

"I'm motivated to write my own story for this cross country season."

Bellevue has become a state fixture in 1A. After winning a title in 2014, the Comets were fifth in 2015 and 10th last year. 

Jess said it is teammates buying in to the required training during the summer months and seeing the success of past teams. 

"To be part of a few years where cross country is working really well for our school, and leaving this possible legacy is great," Reed said. "I looked up to those guys that won state (in 2014), so to possibly have kids looking up to me in the next few years like that is a great feeling."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.