The 2020 high school season of cross-country endured a lot of cancellations of meets and injuries to runners but there were a few who prevailed above all others.
In the Union coverage area, there were four strong teams that outdistanced the rest and proved their strength by qualifying for state.
Danville-New London improved on 2019’s sixth-place finish by winning a Class 2A title. Mid-Prairie returned to state for the first time in three years and placed sixth. Pekin placed 10th last year and improved to ninth this season. Columbus rose up behind team spirit and an enthusiastic coach in Steve Riley to qualify for state for the first time since 2005.
Brady Millikin, senior, Pekin
Millikin was named the captain of the inaugural All-Union boys cross-country team in 2019 with a 16 minute, 38 second race at state in Fort Dodge to place sixth as an individual and was an all-state selection.
Millikin holds those honors again in 2020, except he improved on his placing with a finish of fourth at state in Class 1A and his time better at 16:33 in worse weather than the previous year.
Millikin ran in 10 meets this season and finished fourth twice, third once, second three times and first four times. Second in the first race of the year in 18:00, he then ran 16:54 a week later to win at Albia.
There was a nemesis for Millikin this season as he was second by 63 seconds to Randy Jimenez of Southeast Warren at Lynnville-Sully and third at EBF, behind Jimenez by 35 seconds. Millikin closed the gap by the end of the year, finishing just 2 seconds behind Jimenez’s third-place 16:31 at state.
Millikin could call up his reserve power when needed. Millikin qualified for state as a junior by placing third in the qualifier with a time of 17:20.95, then saved his best race for state.
This year, he won the Super Conference title after taking that crown last year as well. He was second with a time of 17:37 at districts to Cedar Valley Lutheran’s Isaac Natvig’s 16:55. Natvig was 13th at state in 16:58.7.
Millikin was ranked in the Top 10 all year, rising as high as fourth.
Lucas Gourley, Danville-New London
With a stacked lineup coming back, teams around the area knew they had to watch out for Danville-New London, and the Bears showed why with a dominant performance in Class 2A cross-country.
Coach Lucas Gourley’s squad didn’t let the pressure of expectations hold them down. The Bears reached its potential and then some.
D-NL dominated the SEISC boys race, winning the meet with ease and placing five runners in the Top-12. The Bears cruised to the state meet, and when they got to Fort Dodge, they laid it all on the line.
One year after a sixth-place finish at state, the Bears won their first state title. D-NL scored 64 points in the Class 2A state race, beating Tipton by 22 points.
With the majority of the squad coming back next year, there is no question that D-NL will be the heavy favorite in Class 2A next season.
Ty Carr, junior, Danville-New London
Carr was either D-NL’s top or second best runner depending on the meet, and that meant he was one of the best in Class 2A. The junior had high hopes after a 24th-place finish at the state meet in 2019, and he didn’t disappoint when the new year rolled around.
Carr was edged for the top spot in the SEISC race by just over a second, but took second place with a time of 16:08.80.
Carr couldn’t duplicate that time at the state meet, but he did duplicate the place. He was the first of the state-champion Bears to cross the tape, taking second place in 16:50.1.
Alexander Julian, junior, Danville-New London
You can’t mention Carr without talking about the other half of D-NL’s one-two punch at the top. Julian alternated with his fellow junior for the top spot on the D-NL lineup all year, and he was a major reason the Bears ended the season at the top.
Julian placed third in the SESIC boys race, crossing the line in 16:27,61. He followed that up with a third-place finish at state, crossing the tape at 16:50.6, right next to his teammate.
When fall of 2021 rolls around, Julian will be one of the favorites to take home the Class 2A title. Carr and Julian were the two top finishers of next year’s Class 2A returners.
Lance Sobaski, junior, Washington
The first male Demon to win the Southeast Conference is quite an accomplishment but it’s not enough for Sobaski. Asked how it felt after winning that landmark conference title, his reply was, “It will feel a lot better as a two-time conference champion next year.”
Sobaski was the first Demon to ever be ranked when he was placed at No. 27 in 3A. After falling out of the rankings, he re-entered at No. 16 in the last poll before the state meet.
As a sophomore, he was third at conference meet (time of 17:33), 13th at districts (17:19) and 95th at state (time of 17:48). As a junior this season, he has an SEC title (first in Washington history with a 16:54 time) and the highest finish for a Demon at a state-qualifying race (second in 16:27). He owns the record for the fastest race in Washington history, four seconds better than Cesar Castaneda’s 16:31 in 1998. Castaneda has the best finish at state for a Demon — 14th. Sobaski was 27th in 17:03 this year.
Jamison Stutzman, senior, Mid-Prairie
He placed 33rd at state, first among the Golden Hawks and survived a push to the ground around the 1-mile mark at the state meet, finishing in 18:02.
Stutzman’s best race may have been Sept. 28 when he raced against Class 3A’s fourth-ranked Brandon Barker of Clear Creek-Amana, but finished second in 17:38. Barker won with a time of 17:21 seconds. He finished ninth in 3A at state in 16:36.
Stutzman, along with teammates Thaddeus Shelter and Chandler Hershberger were ranked at various times in various spots this season as the Golden Hawks rose as high as third in the team rankings. Stutzman’s work ethic had him ranked eighth in the last poll of the season after not entering the rankings until the fourth week.
Isaac Acosta, junior, Columbus
The weight of an entire team was not too much for Acosta. The leader of the Wildcats, who rose up this season to qualify for state as a team for the first time since 2005.
Acosta was 36th at state in 17:51 but more important than the time was the fact that he and his whole team were at Fort Dodge. The team was never ranked all season but defeated the No. 8 ranked team at districts to get to state then finished 14th, winning a tiebreaker.
Acosta would have made state as an individual with his eighth-place at districts but his leadership showed when he was quoted saying the state “experience would have been nothing without my team.”
Oliver Sowell, senior, Danville-New London
While D-NL is mostly made up of juniors and under, the Bears did have a couple of seniors, and the top man in that category was Sowell.
Sowell was the third-leading returner for the D-NL boys this year after being the third scorer on the 2020 state championship team, and the Bears couldn’t have done it without him. The senior finished fifth in the SEISC race with a time of 17:27.38, and finished fourth on the team and 23rd overall in the state race, with the final mark of 17:47.9.
Not every runner can say what Sowell can say. In the final race of his high school career, Sowell walked off the course a state champion.