The La Crescent High School boys cross-country team has two big advantages entering its fourth consecutive Minnesota State High School League meet. The Lancers have state experience, and they have Matt Steiger.

The Class A state championship race will be the finale of Steiger’s notable career for the Lancers, and his final shot to win an individual state championship. Steiger finished as the runner-up in last year’s state meet by less than a second.

“I was still satisfied with how I did last year,” said Steiger on Monday at practice in La Crescent. “But you’re always gonna want that top spot more, so that’s what’s motivating me this year, to get that spot and be a state champion.”

After winning his first Three Rivers Conference individual title, Steiger cruised to another top finish in the section meet in Rochester, finishing a second over 16 minutes — the third-fastest mark since the meet was moved to the Northern Hills Golf Club in 1985.

Courses range throughout the season in difficulty and even length, but it’s clear that Steiger is an upper echelon talent on every course that he runs on. According to La Crescent coach Mark Abraham, Steiger has attained a strong grasp of how to manage each race in his favor. Abraham said there isn’t much insight he can give Steiger that he doesn’t already know, so he sticks with the same forewarning he gives the entire team.

“Just basically don’t do anything stupid,” said Abraham. “You see more leg races lost in the opening mile than you do won in the opening mile. Kids just get so caught up and go crazy until reality kicks in at that last mile, and they’re shot.”

Steiger has been ranked as the number two individual runner in Class A for the entire season, in between the currently top-ranked Geno Uhrbom from Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, and last year’s state champion Declan Dahlberg of Mound Park Academy.

After taking a month off this summer and withdrawing from the Rochester Mayo meet earlier this season, Steiger said he is back to feeling totally healthy. As far as his approach, Steiger said his mindset and race plan are the same as last year — to shoot for an individual title, and avoid burning out in the earliest stages of the race.

“Just not go crazy,” said Steiger of his state intentions. “And to stick with the front pack but stay conservative in the first mile especially.”

Out of the 176 runners set to compete in the Class A race on Saturday, there’s a good chance that none of them know the state course as well as Steiger does. Steiger first ran the course on the campus of St. Olaf College as an eighth-grader, so Saturday will be his fifth trip through the 5000-meter route that he now knows by heart.

The state race will likely open with a quick opening mile, as the course starts downhill and rolls past the 2000-meter mark before shifting uphill. Runners looking to compete for a top finish need to be in the top pack when the course slopes downhill into the final 800-meters.

The late-season trajectory of Steiger has helped carry seventh-ranked La Crescent into another state appearance with momentum, but it will still be a steep challenge for the Lancers to contend for a state title. But La Crescent’s catalog of runners with state experience.serves only as an upgrade to its odds. Along with Steiger, senior Cole Fechner has ran in four state races, while Bryce Duffy and Dane McCormick have both competed in three, and Thomas Lechnir and Andrew Jaquette have made the trip to Northfield before.

“On the right day, you never know,” said Abraham of La Crescent’s chances at competing for a top finish. “There’s no defense, and you can’t go out there and stop anybody from running well. But if a couple teams have some chinks in the armor that day, and we run very well, we could maybe nudge up towards the top.”

The team departs La Crescent on Friday afternoon for Northfield, where they will register and get to scope out the course, before they have dinner as a team and spend the night in Faribault.