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Out of the crowd for top-25 finish

Conway 22nd at state meet
Just across the finish line, Solon’s Kiersten Conway is congratulated by coach Emy Williams. Her 19:33 finish in the 5-kilometer race was her personal best; good for 22nd overall in the 3A field. (photo by Joe Wilkinson)

FORT DODGE– Even with a little sun breaking through by noon, it was still 40 degrees when the starter’s gun went off for the Class 3A girls state cross country championship Saturday. “It was very crowded in the first mile. I was blocked in from front and back,” recalled Solon freshman Kiersten Conway.
She’s been in big races before. It was very similar to her middle school state race with Iowa Speed Camp a year ago. “But here, they were in high school... and there were more of them,” said Conway. One hundred-thirty-eight to be exact, across the rolling hills north of Fort Dodge.
“The second mile was better,” Conway said. “I was going to (pace myself) with a Mount Vernon girl I knew, but she fell behind, then went ahead. I saw a Liberty girl and tried to stay with her.”
That worked a little better and Conway finished with a 19:33, her personal best, and good for 22nd in the 138-girl field. “Personal best; you can’t ask for more,” observed Solon Head Coach Emy Williams. “She was amazing. Confident, not scared.”
And next time? Conway already has a plan for her return trip. “Try to work the up hills a lot more, try to pass as many girls as I can,” she said. “If someone tries to pass me? Don’t let them.”
She will want company, too. As a team, Solon’s girls just missed a trip to state. Still, her teammates were loud and part of the crowd around the course, cheering for her. “It was a super boost– the varsity girls coming to cheer for her; some of her JV teammates, too,” said Williams. “It was important, as much as they wanted to be here running. But it wasn’t about them this year. It was about them supporting Kiersten.”

True to the statewide coaches’ rankings, Dubuque Wahlert won the Class 3A title, with 72 points. They also rolled to the regional qualifier win at Solon two weeks ago. Center Point-Urbana’s top-ranked Adrianna Katcher was the individual winner, in 18:23.
Solon should challenge for some team real estate in the starting box next year. Just one senior– Sophie Nicol– will be missing from this year’s lineup, with several top junior varsity runners returning. It’s just that Nicol’s contribution went beyond her finishes, usually the second, third or first runner across for the Lady Spartans.
“She was the team leader; taking care of the girls; getting them moving, warming up in time... then the cool down after the race,” recalled Williams. “She was responsible for getting them pumped up, talking up her teammates; she made sure they were warming up before the race, cooling down together after it.”
Sort of a ‘team Mom’? Maybe in a different setting. “I call them my wolf pups,” laughed Nicol, at regional the week before.
There was another ‘Solon touch’ at the state cross country meet. 2001 grad Kelley Wilkinson (now Grothus) and her Madrid boys 1A team was on the awards balcony, claiming the third place team trophy. Grothus, head boys and girls cross country coach for 10 years now, also had the 1A individual runner-up– Sean McDermott, at 16:20. It was the first team to qualify for Madrid since 1989. The team had no seniors– and three freshmen– on its 2017 roster.