By Joe Wilkinson
Special to the Economist
CEDAR RAPIDS– First meet, first trophy, as Solon’s girls came home with the hardware; division champions in the Aug. 25 Prairie High School Cross Country Invitational. Solon’s boys finished well, too, grabbing fourth place in the eight-team race.
The Prairie meet kicks off the cross country season in the area, expanding this year to three divisions. Despite the breakout, according to school size, the meet combines runners. All varsity girls, for instance, run the 4 kilometer course together. The scoring is sorted out after they cross the finish line. “I think that helps us stay motivated to push past more and more people,” reasoned Solon senior Mallory Carr.
Solon– ranked fourth in Class 3A in the preseason by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches (IATC)– packed four girls into the top 10 in the basically 3A Orange Division. Lauren Benzing (15:08, first), Alex Smith (16:01, second), Carr (16:51, eighth) and Tayvia Hansen (16:55, ninth) were joined by Bailey Kelsay (17:14, 16th) in the scoring, for a comfortable win with 36 points, well ahead of 10th-ranked Fort Madison (68 points), No. 15 Mount Vernon-Lisbon (89), Cedar Rapids Xavier (97), top-ranked Pella (98), 11th-rated Marion (128), West Delaware (216) and Maquoketa (221).
That may be the only time Solon toes the line against several of those teams, unless they cross paths at the state meet. “We feel like this is our year. We have the most potential since I’ve been here,” said Carr. “We have the (three) seniors… with a good group of younger girls on varsity. We have great junior varsity (JV) depth as well.
Supporting the Spartan push were first time varsity runners Katie Folkerts (17:25) and Carlyn Haas (17:30), both sophomores. From the JV side, seniors Corri Goldsmith was seventh (18:17), with Allison McKinney 20th (18:27) in the Orange Division... with teammates Sydney Gerdts (21st), Jadyn Miller (22nd) and Madi Shafer (23rd) right behind. Prairie also features a freshman-sophomore division, with Molly Walkner (17:50) and Mileah Mesch (17:56) and Lorin Brokaw (19:15) the top Solon finishers.
Benzing and Smith held their own, smacking elbows with some of the top runners in the state; including Class 4A Cedar Falls’ Allison Gregg, returning as an elite (all-class) top-five runner from the 2011 state meet, as well as Iowa City West’s Ashlynn Yokom (ranked 17th in 4A) and Mariah Kauder of Cascade (11th in 2A). As the season opens, Benzing is rated second and Smith eighth in Class 3A by the IATC.
Solon held its own against some of the better schools in Class 3A at the Prairie Invite. Though relatively flat, the course funneled runners into a 10-yard-wide channel after 120 meters… and then took them through four turns in the next 200 meters.
With a couple of small packs, the Spartans finished fourth in the Orange Division at the season opener. Senior Zach Slusher was 18th in the crowded field, to start the season as Solon’s No. 1 runner. Slusher rolled through the 5-kilometer Prairie campus course in 18:39… a shoulder ahead of junior teammate Patrick McGill, clocked in the same time. Senior Quinn Kelsay (19:03) was 24th. “Zach and Patrick ran good races; each 45 seconds or more faster than last year (at this meet),” assessed coach Emy Williams. “Quinn was almost four minutes faster than last year. He’s worked very hard over the summer.”
Following them were Keegan Paisley, who got out to a great start for the first half-mile, (19:29), Brent Kennicott (19:32), Matt Reiland (19:42) and Ty Appleget (20:16).
Keegan Hess was Solon’s first runner in the fresh-soph race. Taylor Walkner was the first Spartan across on the JV side.