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Spartans both top-five

Boys 2nd, Girls 5th at 3A state meet

FORT DODGE– Solon’s girls were steady through the 2020 cross country season… running at or near the top in most meets. The boys? They worked their way up through the season; always crowding a little tighter and closer to the top. The efforts showed in a big way at the 2020 cross country championships, Friday, Oct. 30.
The Lady Spartans showed a season-long ranking in the top 15 was right on the mark. They moved up from a 15th-place finish in 2018, to seventh last year to fifth this fall. On the boys’ side, the Spartans saved the best for last. Unranked last year, they are state runners-up in 2020.
“Super excited!” exclaimed coach Emy Williams. “Both teams in the top five? Just an amazing day. They went out and competed. That’s what we needed to do.”

Boys: From middle of the pack, to the jumbotron leader board
It didn’t look so good in the early stages of the boys’ Class 3A race at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge.
“You know; they were 600 meters into the (5,000 meter) race and, I think, our top guy was in 60th place. So, it was a little bit nerve-wracking right at the beginning,” admitted Williams. “We had talked about that; it starts fast. You are just going to have to move! Luckily, they stayed calm. They just did what they did all season; continued to move up, to put two in the top 20 with our third runner 22nd. So, it was a great day!”
Junior Gabe Hinman took his third trip around the state course… running as an individual each of the last two years. This fall, though, his team won the regional qualifier a week prior. That made it a team effort.
“I was worried (early) because we were trying not to go with the people getting out too fast,” assessed Hinman. “Then, I was surprised by this one here (nodding to freshman teammate Brick Kabela). “Maybe about 500 meters out… I decided it doesn’t matter. I need to pass him, (then) passing everyone I could see. This was amazing. Not what I was expecting.”
And the freshman stayed in the chase. “I got out right where I wanted to be, in the middle of the pack. I had a lot of guys blocking the (20 mph) wind for me. I set a pace, coasted through the flatland,” said Kabela. “I kind of picked off some more guys in the middle of the race and really pushed it through that third mile.”
Hinman crossed the finish line at 17:01, in 16th place, with Kabela two seconds back in 17th; a great one-two punch. However, it still took teammates to cement the second-place finish and a trip to the clubhouse deck, for the awards ceremony, banner and trophy presentation. Freshman Michael Yeomans was close behind, 22nd in 17:10. Senior mainstay Tyler Bilskie was 35th (17:22) with Ben DeValk 45th (17:29), in the 134-runner field. Backing them were Nate Ferguson (85th, 18:14) and Noelan Garbes (86th, 18:15).
For years as a coach, Williams and her staff have always stressed moving the boys’ pack up; running together, to get a better result. It didn’t always happen. But it did this season. “It’s funny. While we were waiting for awards, I heard, ‘Solon? Who was their top runner?’ and someone replied, ‘They don’t really HAVE one. They just run in a really tight pack,’” laughed Williams. “Sometimes, at a state meet, that doesn’t work so well. But today, they showed that it really does work.”

Girls finish 5th in talent-deep field
There were many familiar faces in the girls’ race at the 2020 state meet. Through the season, Solon had beaten several, finished behind a couple more. But on Friday, they were concentrating runners from 14 other Class 3A schools.
Coming out of their regional qualifier in third place, the Lady Spartans held on for fifth overall at state. It was hard to tally, as 131 girls went through the finish line chute. Most were from the other 14 teams. However, another 30 made it as individuals. “At first, I wasn’t sure we had done as well, but when results were posted; to come out fifth? We were super excited!” proclaimed Coach Williams. “To put both the boys and the girls teams in the top five? It was just an amazing day!”
Senior Kiersten Conway led the way. She made the medalist stand with 13th place, running the 5K course in 19:58. Sophomore Mary Fiala was next across for Solon, 31st in 20:29. Freshmen Anna Quillin (34th, 20:33), Gracie Federspiel (49th, 20:58) and junior Meghan O’Neill (60th, 21:05) also packed into the top half of the 131-girl field; a key to getting a higher team place.
“Overall, the second half went a lot better than the first half,” recalled O’Neill. “Gracie was with me. I could see Emma (Bock) ahead. We could see she needed help, so we started moving up to her. Coach Emy was yelling at us to go on and get the next group. We had good motivation in the second half of the race.”
Teammates Ashlyn Williams (66th, 21:26) and Bock (76th, 21:44) were insurance runners for the Lady Spartans. “They went out and competed. That’s what we needed them to do,” reviewed Coach Williams. So, how do teammates know when it’s time to make a move? “Sometimes, we just point, and we go out from there. Other times, if we have enough energy, we yell at each other, ‘let’s go get this pack’ together,” explained O’Neill.
For the girls, that year to year move up to fifth was important. “I had so much fun this year. It really has been fun, particularly with all the freshmen. They bring a lot of personality to the team,” said O’Neill. Four ninth graders ran varsity at one time or another, as a dozen Lady Spartans worked in and out of the starting rotation.
Freshmen figured into the boys’ lineup, too… evidenced by two at the starting line at state. “It’s really nice to start (our high school careers) with a runner-up finish,” summarized Kabela. “It sets our expectations pretty high, though!”
That’s an especially big plus, considering the specter of COVID over the past eight months, and the early prospect of, perhaps, no season. “They have all been so great at wearing masks, doing just everything that’s been asked of them,” observed Williams. “It’s been so different for them– and for us as coaches. Everybody! I couldn’t be more proud of what they did; how they adjusted. They went along with the changes… and made it worth it. I’m just really appreciative of the girls and boys (athletic) associations for making this happen.”

2020 Class 3A GIRLS Cross Country Finish
Ballard 66
Dallas Center-Grimes 88
Wahlert, Dubuque 89
Heelan, Sioux City 151
SOLON 187
Glenwood 192
Harlan 210
Pella 214
Assumption, Davenport 234
Center Point-Urbana 237
Waverly-Shell Rock 244
Winterset 262
Carlisle 272
Decorah 300
Spencer 369

2020 Class 3A BOYS Cross Country Finish
Dallas Center-Grimes 87
SOLON 135
Carlisle 149
Pella 157
North Polk-Alleman 161
Decorah 173
Center Point-Urbana 200
Marion 203
ADM-Adel 218
LeMars 223
Wahlert, Dubuque
Mount Vernon/Lisbon
MOC-Floyd Valley
West Delaware 278
Glenwood 287