By Joe Wilkinson
Special to the Economist
FORT DODGE– They watched the team races from the outside this year. However, Solon supporters among the couple thousand fans kept their focus on the individual races at the Nov. 2 State Cross country meets. Junior Alex Smith was 46th in the girls’ 4 kilometer race. Junior Ty Appleget was 22nd in the boys’ 5 kilometer course, with senior Patrick McGill 36th.
This was Smith’s third run around the state course at Kennedy Park golf course near Fort Dodge. She competed with the girls team as a freshman and sophomore. Solon’s girls and boys teams finished one slot short at the Class 3A regional qualifying meet; which takes only the first three teams to state.
From her starting box in the middle of the field, Smith felt the squeeze as 121 runners merged into a moving human pile of arms and legs at the gun; aiming uphill for the sharp right turn at the top of the fairway. “Everybody collapsed into a big group. That boxed me in at the start,” said Smith. As the field stretched out in the next half mile, she could make a move. “I saw specific little packs. I figured I could knock them off; one by one.” She worked up to 46th, just beating the 16 minute mark (15:59).
“It was hard for Alex. When you are used to having your team with you at a meet it is hard to go through that by yourself,” observed coach Emy Williams. “She ran a strong race. I was proud of her and how she handled it.”
Decorah, second ranked in 3A by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches coming into the meet, and MOC/Floyd Valley, ranked fourth, tied for the championship with 108 points after their first five runners crossed the finish line. In cross country, the tie is broken by the teams’ sixth runner. Advantage Decorah. With Davenport Assumption (126) crossing in third place, it was a repeat of 2012’s one-two-three finish.
In the boys’ race, Appleget and McGill took advantage from their starting slots. At the north end of the grid, they had a straight line to the first turn more than a quarter mile away, while the rest of the field had to run extra yards to reach it.
“They got out strong and ran a great race. Ty has gone out and run his personal best, 16:51, at our last three meets,” noted Williams. “At state, it is very easy to get lost in the pack since there are so many good runners; especially if you are used to running towards the front.”
That fast start kept Appleget in the front, through about the 3/4 mile mark. “With our start, I knew I had to get out hard, I was in the top five at the break (into an extra loop to make up their extra kilometer),” Appleget said. McGill was close behind at 17:06. “I gave it all I had. We knew we had to run the ‘height’ of that (starting grid) triangle to the first turn. From there, I tried to stay with the kids passing me,” McGill said.
It was vindication of sorts for the senior. He missed qualifying last year by one second. “Satisfying I guess, in that way,” he said looking back. “Toward the end of last season, I really started taking it seriously. (Missing the field) made me want it so much more; working for it through this season; knowing what I had to do to make it to state.”
The team race was nearly a rubberstamp of the IATC ratings. Team champion Boone, ranked second going in, used a one-two finish– again– by Chandler Austin and Albert Meier– to slip by top ranked Charles City. Decorah, Pella and Algona finished in that order; each within a slot of their season ending ranking.
Williams feels Smith and Appleget will help push to get both teams to Fort Dodge in 2014. “They will be hungry to go back next year. Hopefully their teammates will want to get there, too.”