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Davenport Assumption's girls track and field program has not experienced a close call at the state meet during its five-year run of excellence. 

The Knights usually have had their Class 3A championships wrapped up by lunch or early Saturday afternoon at Drake Stadium each year. 

But when Assumption returns to Des Moines on Thursday afternoon to begin its quest for a state six-peat, it won't be considered the favorite. 

Coach Tim O'Neill, in fact, calls his team an underdog. 

"There are a lot of people who don't think we can do it again," junior sprinter Lea Nelson said. "We still have a target on our back since we've won five, but people are looking at other teams in this class."

Pella, Dubuque Wahlert, Benton Community, Decorah and Crestwood are those other teams. Pella is the favorite based on regional performances.

Instead of a double-digit win, which Assumption has enjoyed each of the past five seasons, this one expects to be decided in the closing moments late Saturday afternoon.

"There is no margin for error," O'Neill admitted. "We've got to go out and put our best effort out there and see how the chips fall.

"At some point, this run can't last forever. Is it this year? I don't know, but I still think we have a pretty darn good chance to go out there and win it."

Assumption has encountered more obstacles this season than previous years.

Besides the weather elements everyone endured in late March and early April, the Knights lost distance standout Julia Schumacher and middle distance runner Natalie Moore to season-ending injuries. 

Schumacher was fourth in the 1,500, seventh in the 800 and anchored sixth place distance medley and 3,200 relays last year at state. Moore ran on the third place sprint medley relay and state-qualifying 1,600 relay. 

While it has created opportunities for others to emerge, it has impacted Assumption's depth and tightened the team race.

"There has definitely been a lot more adversity," sprinter Carly King said. "We still have to continue to keep our mind on the goal and realize no matter what happens, we still have a very good team and we're in a good position to compete at state."

King will try and pull off the 100, 200 and 400 sweep this weekend. She has attempted it the past two seasons and has been in the top three of every event. 

O'Neill said King is stronger mentally than at any point in her career. The 100-meter Drake Relays champion is healthy after nursing a hip flexor last spring. 

"I have a lot more confidence this year in my training and my abilities," King said. "I'm a lot more mentally prepared to race."

In particular, there are three relay races that will loom large in determining Assumption's fate — the 800, sprint medley and distance medley relays. 

King won't be involved in any of those three since she'll run three individual events and anchor the 1,600 relay. 

Mary Grace Carroll and Nelson lead those aforementioned relays. O'Neill said the Knights could alter its relay teams from last week's state-qualifying meet. 

"We're putting a lot of emphasis on the DMed (distance medley) this year," Carroll remarked. "We're really looking to be competing for that top spot."

Assumption does have experience on its side.

Carroll, Nelson and King have been in the heat of the battle and thrived under the Drake Stadium pressure in the past.

"It makes you more confident," Carroll said. "Fast times happen at Drake. It is accepting that atmosphere and building off it."

Assumption already is the first girls squad to claim five straight titles. It can join the Ames (1986-91) and Iowa City High (1992-97) boys as the only programs in Iowa to capture six if the pieces fall into place. 

Carroll said the Knights have discussed it lightheartedly in practice, but it never has been an emphasis. 

"We have to be ready, no mistakes," Nelson said. "We can't be lackadaisical. Every time we step on the track, we have to be ready to win."

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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.