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Boys 7th, girls 2nd at Wellman meet

Girls a close third at soggy North Linn

By Joe Wilkinson
Special to the Economist
TROY MILLS– Each year, at the North Linn Cross Country Invitational, you can count on the weather… to do something different.
Past years have featured sub-freezing temperatures, swirling snow or high winds. This year, Mother Nature offered soaked turf and light rain for one of the biggest late-season runs in Eastern Iowa. Still, runners from two dozen schools had to run the same course, in the same conditions. This year, coaches just hoped for a team of mudders.
Solon’s boys had a pack working; their top four runners within 20 spots of each other in the 148-runner varsity field. Marion’s first five totaled 67 points, for the title; just under Clear Creek Amana (80) and Tipton (110). Solon’s 334 score locked in 11th place among 21 complete 1A, 2A and 3A teams on the run.
“The boys are running faster than last year, over the same course,” noted Solon coach Emy Williams. “Freshmen Tyler Bilskie, Edward Richey and Ben DeValk have stepped up to fill varsity spots; working hard and moving up in the lineup.”
Sophomore Ethan Kober was the first Spartan across; 54th (18:36). Close behind were senior Payton Philipp (60th, 18:44), Bilskie (65th, 18:50), junior Andrew Bransky (73rd, 19:01) and Richey (82nd, 19:17). DeValk (19:24) and sophomore Kenji Fisher (19:35) backed them. In the junior varsity race, freshman Brad Yeomans was 19th (19:49) of 114 runners there.
For Solon’s girls, the varsity lineup has been pretty consistent over the last few meets; yet aware that several junior varsity teammates are not far behind. The team race was tight. Benton Community took the title, with 103 points. Marion was runner-up with 112, with Solon (114) crowding them. Williamsburg was fourth with 147, followed by 13 more full teams, and two with partial squads.
Kiersten Conway came back as the No. 1 runner for the Lady Spartans. Sophie Nicol claimed the spot earlier in the week at the IMS invite. Conway was ninth (20:44 in the 5K race) in the 120-girl field. Erin Kerkhoff was next (22nd, 21:24), with Ella Düster third (25th, 21:27), Nicol fourth (26th, 21:31) and Nicole Shafer fifth (32nd, 21:46). Saige Hauer (22:24) and Ashley Stinocher (23:37) rounded out the varsity attack.
One runner in the top 10, with the next four just 22 seconds apart? That makes it hard for other teams to squeeze anyone to improve their finish. “Our pack keeps getting closer together. We have to keep pushing the pack to compete at the conference and state qualifying meet,” emphasized Williams.
That is where the team element comes into play. The finishes of a school’s first five runners determine its score. Even the sixth and seventh are important, since moving past another runner could drop that school’s total by a point; important if a tiebreaker is needed in the team finish.
Solon has had that strong ‘middle of the lineup’ push; edging past other teams in a sport where a lower score means you did better. For most of the season, Ella Düster and Nicole Shafer have finished as their team’s three, four or five runner. (Nicole eight times, Ella nine) Each has been the second Spartan across once, as well.
“If we can get to those girls ahead of us; we can cut another few points off our score. That helps our team a lot,” reasoned Shafer. “I try to speed up in the last mile, trying to catch them. I got one at the (North Linn) finish line; a couple more on the hills.” And each scoring runner passed translates into two points; one less for Solon, one added to the other team’s score. At North Linn, it pushed Solon to within two points of the runner-up spot. At a couple other meets, it has bumped them up a spot in the team standings.
Pressure comes from their junior varsity (JV), too; with Solon’s Calista Haasl (23:34) second overall in the North Linn field.

Boys seventh, girls second at IMS
Senior Carl Richey paced Solon’s boys at the Oct. 2 IMS Invite, at Wellman. His 18:49 was good for 23rd overall, as Solon (with 190 points) finished seventh in the 11-team field. Top-ranked (2A) Mid-Prairie won the team title (45 points). Ethan Kober was next across for Solon (39th overall, 19:37), followed by teammates Andrew Bransky (42nd, 19:57) and Tyler Bilskie (43rd, 19:59).
Sophie Nicol was the top Solon finisher in a 78-runner crowd, seventh across at 21:24. Mid Prairie’s girls– also at the top in 2A, won their race. Sisters Marie and Anna Hostetler were one-two again. All seven Solon varsity runners pushed into the top 28. Erin Kerkhoff was 15th, Ella Düster 16th and Nicole Shafer 17th near the front of the pack. Kiersten Conway was 24th (23:11), Saige Hauer was 25th (23:13) with Ashley Stinocher 28th (23:11).
Solon junior Calista Haasl won the JV race (24:37), with all five scoring runners– Piper Radcliffe (third), Aira Foster (eighth), Faye Düster (10th) and Allison Capper (11th)– near the top of the 48-girl JV field. That was good for a JV team title, too.

Postseason awaits
From here, it’s the home stretch. Solon runs in the WaMaC Conference meet Thursday, Oct. 12, at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. A week later, the Spartans host a 3A state qualifying meet, with the prospect of the Oct. 28 state meet in Fort Dodge.