Tim O’Neill is running out of space.

The Davenport Assumption girls track and field program’s recent dominance is captured in the head coach's cramped office on the second floor of the school inside the Knights' secondary gymnasium.

Glance in the window and Assumption’s four state championship trophies are together.

There is just one problem. O’Neill has no room for another piece of hardware in that display window.

“I don’t know what we’ll do yet,” he admitted, “but we’ve got to earn it first. We’ll worry about that when the time comes.”

Assumption joined Atlantic (1998-01), Tipton (2004-07) and North Tama (2006-09) last spring as Iowa girls track and field programs to claim four consecutive state titles.

The Knights can become the first school in 55 years of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s sanctioned sport to collect five straight championships May 20 at Drake Stadium.

O’Neill’s team is the overwhelming favorite to achieve the feat. The Knights, who won last year's Hy-Vee Cup at the Drake Relays, return 99.5 of their state-record 126 points from last season.

Pella, last year’s Class 3A runner-up, finished with 79.5 points.

“We just all build off each other,” sophomore sprinter Carly King said. “We see the success ahead of us and we want to be as good or better than the team before us.”

Rose Ripslinger, Maddie Irmen, Emma Bassier, Markel Mommsen and Kennedy King were the prominent names at the start of Assumption’s title wave.

The baton has been passed to Joy Ripslinger, Carly King, Jasmine Harris, Mary Grace Carroll and Julia Schumacher.

They've taken the program to greater heights.

Harris, Carroll, Carly King and Joy Ripslinger teamed for the program’s first national championship earlier this month at the New Balance Indoor meet in New York. The 1,600 medley relay clocked in at 3 minutes, 59.31 seconds.

“It was an amazing experience, an atmosphere I’ve never, ever been around,” Harris said.

The championship came somewhat as a surprise. Powered by a 2:09.9 anchor from Ripslinger in the 800, the Knights prevailed by nearly 1.5 seconds.

“It definitely puts our confidence in a good spot heading into outdoor season,” Ripslinger said. “We weren’t going into it expecting to be national champs. That was definitely a hope. It was a very pleasant outcome and we’re excited for what’s to come.”

Assumption has star power and a talented supporting cast to offset no field event participants and likely no hurdlers.

Ripslinger, an Arkansas signee, won three state championships last year and is among the nation’s top 800 runners. King, the reigning 3A 100-meter champion, had four top-two finishes at state as a freshman. Schumacher was among the top five at state in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000.

“It has been an unbelievable run of talent,” O’Neill said. “It is the kids who put in the work, the kids that are showing up and performing.

“We had one or two kids that started this six or seven years ago. Then it was six or seven, then 10 or 12. Now, we’ve got 23 girls on our roster, and I don’t think I would trade any one of them for anybody else in the state. They buy in, they train, they are disciplined and good kids.”

Assumption has to replace three seniors who provided considerable state relay points in Mallory King, Rachel Jennings and Sarah Adams.

“We lost some very unselfish kids who added a lot of depth to what we do,” O’Neill said. “Trying to find those replacements is our biggest task. How do we fill those shoes?”

In addition to Harris and Carroll, O’Neill anticipates Grace Rohlf and Lea Nelson to play a vital role along with Molly Gervase and seniors Billi Marzen and Liz Fennelly (first year out for track).

And with each year of success, the target grows on Assumption’s program.

The Knights don’t shy away from it. They embrace it.

“That’s what makes us so resilient and such a strong team,” Harris said. “We know we’ve got to set the bar even higher.

“We’re at a whole different level than we were last year. Our training is a lot harder, and we’re on a mission.”

Prior to its run of championships, Assumption was chasing Dubuque Wahlert, Pella, Decorah and Mount Vernon.

Now everybody is looking up at the Knights in 3A.

O'Neill mentioned to his team at the outset of the season the opportunity that awaits them, a chance to do something unprecedented. 

"The kids know the expectation," O'Neill said. "All the kids in this program only have one expectation and are used to one thing, and that's winning. 

"They also know you don't just show up and win. There is a process."

There are steps along the way -- the Assumption Invitational (April 8), Kansas Relays (April 22), Drake Relays (April 27-29), the Mississippi Athletic Conference meet (May 4) and the state-qualifying competition (May 11).

It culminates with the three-day, coed state meet starting May 18. 

“We all just need to motivate each other, hold each other accountable for our actions in workouts and outside of workouts,” Carroll said. “We just need to make sure everyone’s head is in the right place two months from now.”

If that happens, O’Neill might be searching for a new location to showcase Assumption's hardware.


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.