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Pack taking shape as cross country hits midseason

Girls fourth, boys ninth at Solon invite
Solon frontrunner Erin Kerkhoff rounds a muddy turn, on the Atkins Roundhouse course at the Benton Invitational cross country meet, September 13. Kerkhoff was eighth overall and the first Spartan runner across. (photo by Joe Wilkinson)

SOLON– Packs can be good in cross country. “It’s a sport where you are out there, running by yourself for 20-some minutes. You want to get up with someone you know; to push each other… to keep going. Then, it’s all about the team,” explained Solon Head Coach Emy Williams.
Coaches are beginning to see that pack mentality coming together with the varsity girls notching a fourth place team finish in the 10-team Solon Invitational, Sept. 19. Medalists Erin Kerkhoff (seventh, 21:37) and Ella Düster (15th, 22:01) were joined by teammate Sophie Nicol (17th, 22:18); keeping in contact with each other for most of the 5-kilometer course. Freshman Nicole Shaffer closed hard to snag the 22nd overall spot. Aira Foster (38th, 24:07) helped lock in the best team performance of the season in the 59-girl field.
“We are a young team; just one senior on the varsity,” noted Williams. “They are learning as they go; learning how to go with each other. Erin had a great race tonight. We’re blessed to have a team like that.”
And there’s pressure from the junior varsity (JV). With 114 girls banging elbows at the Solon starting line, sophomore Calista Haasl grabbed a JV medal with ninth place (24:04). “We see Calista finally getting into (cross country) shape after a summer filled with softball,” noted Williams. “That’s good for her.” Teammate Jayna Koffron (16th, 14:49) was close behind. The JV girls finished third overall.
North Scott walked off with the varsity team title with 33 points. Mount Vernon-Lisbon (64 points) was runner-up. Mid-Prairie– ranked No. 3 statewide in Class 2A– was third (95) edging out Solon (99).
That ‘Run Young’ tag sticks with the boys, too; with just one senior in their top seven at Solon. There, the pack dipped a little lower, though. Sophomore Jorel Justus was again the top Spartan runner, (22nd, 18:48), with junior Carl Richey nearby (25th, 18:58). Senior Tanner Larkey (51st, 21:07), freshman Kenji Fisher (57th, 20:46) and sophomore Luke Yetley (61st, 20:51) filled out the scoring for the Spartans.
Top-ranked (3A) Mount Vernon-Lisbon ran off with the championship, logging just 37 points. Mid-Prairie ranked third (2A) with 103 points. Solon was ninth, with 216 in the 10-school lineup. In the JV race, four Solon runners stuck close together, finishing in the 18-to-25 spots for second place in the team race, behind another perfect 1-2-3-4-5 finish by top-ranked Mount Vernon-Lisbon’s junior varsity in a 155-runner field.
Combining the four high school races with middle school boys and girls, the Solon Invite had 901 runners registered to hit the course.

Rain-soaked re-route on Benton course
With a trimmed-down field, due to an earlier rainout, JV and varsity ran together at the Benton Invitational Sept. 13 at Atkins. And the front of the boys’ finish looked like a Mount Vernon-Lisbon (MV-L) intra-squad meet. The first seven runners across were from MV-L’s varsity, for a ‘perfect-plus’15 points, and team title. Back in the pack– just a little– were six teammates, in the first 11 JV slots, to ace that race.
Vinton-Shellsburg was runner-up in the boys varsity race (62 points). Solon was third (85), with Benton Community fourth (87). Jorel Justus was the first Spartan across, 11th in the 30-runner field. The sophomore’s 17:45 on the rain-adjusted course, was his first ‘first’ among Solon runners– and 26 seconds better than Solon’s top finisher a year ago on the regular Benton route.
For him, though, each course is a ‘first.’ “It’s my first year out. I wanted to get in shape for soccer, (but) didn’t think I’d be doing this good. I could see myself running junior and senior year, though,” admitted Justus. “The last three or four meets I’ve been trying to hit the targets (places) that the coaches gave me. I’m still learning how to run.”
Adam Smith was the next Solon runner across (12th, 17:53). Behind him were Carl Richey (17th, 18:27), Tanner Larkey (22nd, 19:21) and Payton Philipp (23rd, 19:23) in the scoring slots.
Solon’s Erin Kerkhoff claimed a top 10 medal on the girls’ side. Her 21:05 was eighth among the 31 runners, and 20 seconds faster than her 12th-place finish in 2015. Teammate Ella Düster– one of three freshmen in Solon’s ‘top five’ at Benton– was 11th (21:30). Junior Sophie Nicol was 15th (21:43). Freshmen Aira Foster (18th, 22:03) and Nicole Shaffer (20th, 22:16) followed, to complete the scoring.
“This course is a lot flatter than most others. There was no sun beating down, either,” observed Düster. “Early on, it seemed a bit easier. I was in third place overall at the half mile (mark). Sophie and Erin caught up to me by a mile.”
A little weekend distance seemed to help her at the Tuesday meet. “The Saturday meet was postponed, so I did a 5 mile run over the weekend; slower, but to build endurance. (Then), we sprint in practice, to work on speed,” said Düster.
Their field, too, was reduced by the Saturday rainout. Mount Vernon-Lisbon won the girls’ championship, too, running third, fourth, fifth, sixth and 13th for their 31 team points. Benton was second with 55, followed by Vinton-Shellsburg with 62 and Solon with 71.
This Saturday, it’s the annual Anamosa Invite, the ‘Run Around the Lake’ at Central Park near Anamosa for both cross country squads.