By Joe Wilkinson
Special to the Economist
SOLON– Three Solon runners will be in the starting boxes Saturday at the State Class 3A cross country meet. Junior Alex Smith qualified at the Oct. 24 district meet at Solon for the girls. On the boys’ side, junior Ty Appleget and senior Patrick McGill made the field. Smith runs at noon Saturday, Nov. 2, at Kennedy Park at Fort Dodge. Appleget and McGill get the gun at 12:30 p.m.
Smith goes, team stays…
It takes a top-10 finish to qualify as an individual. With a fast lead pack, Alex Smith was jammed in 16th place through the first half of her 4-kilometer race. “I felt tired, but reminded myself every step, I had to get faster. When I was in 11th, late in the race, I told myself, I gotta move up.” She did, battling for the ninth and eighth spots as she went through the finish chute, in 16:01.
The trip to state is bittersweet, though. Her teammates will be cheering, not running this year. Though the Spartans moved up to 10th in the Iowa Association of Track Coaches weekly poll, they still had to face four schools ranked higher; the toughest district in 3A. “I could not be more proud of the team this year. I never saw anyone work so hard; that wanted something that bad,” reflected Smith, heading for her third state meet. “They’d all love to be there, but it’s reality.”
Top ranked Davenport Assumption– with all five scoring runners in the top eight spots– ran away with the girls title, with 21 points. Mount Vernon-Lisbon, sixth-ranked, was second (66 points). Cedar Rapids Xavier (fifth in the poll) grabbed the third and final state ticket (72). Solon (102) did beat (ninth) ranked Mount Pleasant. Following them were Marion, Central DeWitt, Benton Community, Center Point-Urbana, Clear Creek Amana, Maquoketa and Washington.
“Fourth is a hard place to be. We talked about how going to or not going to state does not define what kind of team we are or what type of season we had,” assessed head coach Emy Williams of the boys’ and the girls’ efforts. “This was a great team that worked hard from varsity to JV.”
Appleget, McGill make the field
On the boys side, unranked Clear Creek Amana pulled the big upset, its 73 points undercutting No. 10 Center Point Urbana (74) and No. 12 Mount Vernon-Lisbon (93) for the championship. Solon, with 107, surprised No. 6 Xavier (120), No. 14 Marion (127) as well as Assumption, Mount Pleasant, Benton Community, Central DeWitt, Maquoketa and Washington.
Appleget finished fifth (16:51) in the biggest race of the year. Early on, he was on leader Josh Yeager (CPU)’s shoulder in second place. “I told myself I wanted to be up there with (Yeager) the whole race. As he pulled away, I focused on the next guy; same thing. Have to stay on his shoulder. Pat’s trail through the woods really helped, too.”
That scenic route, from the limestone trail, through the woods and back to the Solon Nature and Recreation area was McGill’s Eagle Scout project, with Troop 120, a couple years ago. It’s now part of the girls’ and boys’ course in cross country meets. It seemed to help him, too. “I felt really fast all day; I had nothing left in the last stretch. I gave it my all,” said McGill. He was seventh (17:01) over the 5 kilometers. It’s justice of sorts, for McGill. He finished 11th last year at district, one second and one place away from going to state.
Teammate David Coberly was 24th (17:50), Simon Düster finished 34th (18:11), Taylor Walkner crossed 37th (8:13) with Josh Prybil 41st (18:20) and Nik Rehnke 49th (18:46). “For the boys to finish fourth was impressive. They looked strong and left nothing on the course,” reviewed Williams, noting the girls and boys each beat teams which had finished ahead of them at conference and at the big North Linn meet in the week or two prior.
“We told both the girls and boys to be proud of what they had accomplished and know that we were proud of them. They ran their best. That is all we can ask of them,” reflected Williams.