Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
FORT DODGE — Columbus boys cross-country team did not place as well as hoped for but accomplished a Wildcat milestone, becoming the second team to qualify to Fort Dodge in consecutive seasons.
Both Pekin’s Lauren Derscheid and Freddy Vergara of Columbus finished in 24th place and were the highest Union area finishers in Class 1A at the Iowa High School Cross-Country Championships in Fort Dodge at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course Saturday.
The Pekin girls capped a season of high rankings with a fifth-place team finish behind Big Lauren (Derscheid), who ran a 20 minutes, 58 seconds for 24th and Little Lauren (Steigleder) who ran 21:05 for 26th.
Noelle Steines of Calamus-Wheatland won the individual title in 18:20. South Winneshiek took the girls team title with 104 points. Logan-Magnolia was second with 121 points.
Zack Wise was Pekin’s representative on the boys side and made the top 50 with a strong finish.
Columbus finished 16th in the team standings with 314 points. ACGC won the team title with 75 points, while Maquoketa Valley was second with 112 points. Jayden Dickson of Earlham won the individual title in 16:06.46.
“It was not what we had hoped for,” Columbus coach Steve Riley said.
Riley said the first mile was faster than the Wildcats had run all season. The team was in good shape at that point in 11th place.
“Our entire top 5 crossed the one-mile mark in 5:40 or better, and Freddy ran 5:16. We were ready to run fast at the beginning, and we did that. I don’t think it was just one thing I could point to,” Riley said. “I plan to reflect on the race and try to get our kids better in the middle and latter stages of the race.”
Hillcrest Academy senior Leah Bontrager placed 39th in her fourth visit to state. On a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-fifties, clear skies and virtually no wind, Bontrager traversed the five-kilometer course in 21:23 to nearly equal her time as a sophomore. Each year, she placed higher than the previous year.
“Leah has been a steady competitor despite a variety of challenges that have come her way,” Hillcrest Academy head coach Martin Gingerich said. “Thanks be to God for leading Leah this far.”
There’s a difference between regret and wish for Wise.
“I wish that I had ran better but I don’t regret the way I ran. I ran hard, gave it all I got, sometimes you just have those days. We are Pekin and it is a family,” Wise said. “If I had stayed at Fairfield, I know it would not be the same. I love it here. It’s my home, we’re one big family."
Falling from third to ninth in the rankings was “not something we focused on,” Derscheid said. “Maybe used it for motivation.“
“We spent the last week of training focusing on what we needed to do,” Pekin senior Sarah Eubanks said. “Now we know what to do, let’s go do it.”
"(Cross-country) was a great bonding experience, definitely something I will always remember,“ Vergara said. ”We shared everything, The good moments and bad moments all of it," Vergara said. “It was a learning process out there. I’m happy."
"Before the race Coach (Steve Riley) said this is it," senior Isaac Acosta said. “This is our last opportunity. This is a chance to make us into something. You have made your school from nothing into something.”
The Wildcats were the sixth Columbus team to qualify for state in the program's 51-year history.
"I am happy for the first two miles I ran," Acosta said. "My back was killing me and I tried to push through it, no matter what. I told myself I just have to go a little more, keep going and keep going. I wanted to stop."
"We wanted to get into the top 10, ninth or 10th if we could. We thought 15th was too low," Freddy Vergara said.
Winfield-Mount Union sophomore Gabe Hemsworth was 105th in 18:54.
Faith Neeley, who qualified for state all four years and was faster than last year, was 62nd, just ahead of Van Buren County freshman teammate Payten Poling. Neely spent the start of the season battling low iron issues.
"I didn’t quite run the time that I was hoping," Neeley said. "I felt like I struggled a lot at the two-mile mark. I shortened my stride way too much."
“I tried to leave it out there as much as I could," Poling said. "I think the hardest part for me was trying to keep my concentration when running through the huge groups. I couldn’t hear myself thinking so I couldn’t think about how I wanted to step but overall it was a nice course."
Pekin coach Davis Eidahl has had a team at the state meet 18 years in a row. “It’s all the kids. We had a 10-in-a-row streak finishing first or second. This group, what they did was good. I’m just as excited as when we won.”
Pekin loses four female seniors and Wise among others. The Panthers returned everyone from last year’s girls team that tied for third at state and lost a tiebreaker with Regina to place fourth.
“Three of those girls never ran this year,” Eidahl said. “Two were hurt and one did not go out. We got some good kids and I got a good assistant in Sarah Wright. She used to run at Wapello.”
Wise did not run at state last year, though Pekin boys did. “I had COVID so I couldn’t even come up and watch. I had to go to be better than I normally run but there’s no normal up here.
“It was a ride, let me tell you,” Wise said. “It was a fun time this year.”
BOYS TEAM SCORES
1. ACGC 75, 2. Maquoketa Valley Delhi 112, 3. Earlham 134, 4. Valley Lutheran Spread 161, 5. Pella Christian 178, 6. Bellevue 198, 7. Central Decatur Leon 199, 8. Regina Iowa City 202, 9. Woodbine Community 234, 10. St. Edmond Fort Dodge 241, 11. Ogden 255, 12. Central Springs 263, 13. Cascade Western Dubuque 297, 14. St. Albert Council Bluffs 305, 15. Newman Catholic Mason City 307, 16. Columbus 314.
GIRLS TEAM SCORES
1. South Winneshiek 104, 2.Logan-Magnolia 121, 3. St. Edmond Fort Dodge 167, 4. Hudson 170, 5. Pekin 177, 6. Regina Iowa City 204, 7. Sumner-Fredericksburg 219, 8. North Tama Traer 226, 9. North Linn Troy Mills 227, 10. Woodbine Community 232, 11. Earlham 235, 12. Newman Catholic Mason City 255, 13. Wapsie Valley Fairbank 257, 14. St. Albert Council Bluffs 263, 15. ACGC 267, 16. Central Decatur Leon 368
PEKIN — 24. Lauren Derscheid 20:58; 26. Lauren Steigleder 21:05; 77. Mia Clark 22:26; 87. Sarah Eubanks 22:37; 93. Audrey Fariss 22:43; 99. Zoey Johnson 22:58; 124. Emily Laumeyer 23:52
49. Zach Wise 17:49
COLUMBUS— 24. Freddy Vergara 17:25, 87. Isaac Acosta 18:33, 123. Damian Vergara 19:18, 128. Tim Hills-Carrier 19:22, 130. Mason Hills-Carrier 19:30, 142. Tyler Humiston 19:56, 152. Javier Panchillo 22:07
WiINFIELD-MOUNT UNION — 105. Gabe Hemsworth 18:54.
VAN BUREN COUNTY — 62. Faith Neely 21:53, 66. Peyton Poling 22:00
HILLCREST ACADEMY — 39. Leah Bontrager 21:23