By Joe Wilkinson
Special to the Economist
ANAMOSA– Solon’s girls will move on to the state tournament after winning the Oct. 20 district cross country title and dusting top-ranked Davenport Assumption on the way.
The 74-runner field was led by junior Lauren Benzing, who– again– broke the 4 kilometer course record around Central Park Lake near Anamosa. The next runner was nearly a minute behind.
Benzing remains undefeated through two seasons, with a state showdown looming. Class 3A’s three top-ranked girls each won their district meet… though on different courses and terrains. Madison Waymire of Dallas Center-Grimes, Anna Holdiman of Waverly Shell Rock and Benzing toe the line together at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge Oct. 29.
This marks the ninth consecutive year that Solon’s girls have gone to state; the first as a 3A school. Still a big deal?
“It really is. This is a special group of girls. Today was probably their strongest race of the season,” assessed coach Emy Williams. “They stayed relaxed. That helped us do what we do.”
What they did was grab three of the top 10 spots and run away from Assumption, which, earlier in the season, edged Solon 33-36 on the same course. The second-ranked Spartans stretched the margin to 21 points (37-58), although two Assumption runners did not compete. Whether they return– and in what condition– hang as question marks going into the state meet.
Mount Vernon-Lisbon was right behind Assumption (60 points), earning the third team slot. No other team was within 80 points. Each class (1A, 2A, 3A and 4A) holds five district meets, with the top three teams and top 10 individuals advancing to state.
Benzing led, but stayed close to the pack in the first lap around Central Park Lake near Anamosa, hitting her targets and slowly pulling away. With 800-meters to go, however, she had built a nearly one-minute lead and was not challenged, finishing the 4 kilometers in 15:14. Lauren Neurenberger of Maquoketa was runner-up. Solon freshman Alex Smith hung in the top four throughout the race, striding into third place for good at the two mile mark. She finished in 16:12. Behind them was sophomore Tayvia Hansen in 10th (16:42). Senior Leah Adams was Solon’s fourth runner (12th overall in 16:52) with juniors Bailey Kelsay (13th, 16:55), Mallory Carr (17th, 17:16) and senior Abby Ashton (23rd, 17:32) crowded behind them.
For Adams, it’s a chance now to go out on top. She also ran at state as a freshman and junior. “It was overwhelming in ninth grade; stepping up to the starting line with a million other girls; all the excitement,” recalled Adams. “This year? Not nervous, but really excited. We want to make this year the best year– for everyone.”
And where will they finish? In that nine year run, there have been two runner-up plaques. Last year, Solon claimed fourth in a tight four-team fight for first. “They looked relaxed and strong (at districts). That’ll be the theme for state,” emphasized Williams. “The rest will take care of itself.”
Blue For Mackenzie
Even though 14 Solon legs were churning, it was still easy to spot the blue socks, clashing with their black uniforms. The socks and blue hair ribbons– Clear Creek Amana school colors– were a nod to a competitor. Throughout the season, CCA freshman Mackenzie Lown and her teammates ran head to head against the Spartans. Three days before districts, Mackenzie died in a car accident near Tiffin. “Everyone stepped it up today,” noted Adams. “We– and Mount Vernon– were running for Clear Creek today, too.”