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Boys, girls each run 3rd, in cross country season kickoff

Solon senior Ben DeValk pushes out with the lead pack in the first half-mile of Solon’s season-opening cross country meet at Anamosa, Aug. 29. DeValk finished eighth overall. Solon, as a team, was third among the eight teams.

ANAMOSA– Same meet… different look, as Solon’s cross country teams opened the 2020 season. Usually held in midseason, the Anamosa Invitational was first on the calendar this year. It ushered in a new look, as COVID-19 precautions meant different training, team transportation, meet preparation, social distancing on the course and masks on many– certainly not all– spectators in the Aug. 29 meet.
It was a smaller field, as well. There were just seven full (seven-runner) varsity teams in the 52-boys field (two other schools ran incomplete teams) and seven teams (with 48 runners) on the girls’side. Solon finished third in each race and was first in each junior varsity (JV) run.
Mid-Prairie was the boys’ winner with 43 points. Muscatine (58) was second, followed by Solon (62), Clear Creek-Amana (71), Williamsburg (125), Fort Madison (136) and Anamosa (161). Solon’s finish was a big bump up from an eighth-place finish in 2019.
This time around, Solon seniors Ben DeValk and Tyler Bilksie ran with the lead pack early, with junior teammate Gabe Hinman around 15th, through the first lap of the 5-kilometer course. Hinman made his move in the later stages. “That’s pretty much how it’s gone all (early) season. Ben and Tyler have really pushed it over the summer with their training, in a good way,” observed Hinman. “Thankfully, for me, I can still catch up before the end of the race. And obviously it’s good to have teammates to chase.”
Hinman was fifth overall, crossing at 17:00.9. DeValk, 17:07, was eighth. Bilskie, 17:21, was 11th. Two freshmen showed they will contribute right out of the chute. Brick Kabela was 14th (17:25) with Michael Yeomans 24th (18:25). Ty Becicka was 28th (18:33), with Noelan Garbes 36th (19:05) for the Spartans.
“I was really super excited, about how strong they all looked,” proclaimed coach Emy Williams. “To have the three top runners finish so high; about two minutes better in the standings than before, here. And top five varsity runners– with two freshmen– with just a minute and 20 seconds separating them. That’s as strong as our boys’ team has looked in a first meet for a long time.”
In the earlier JV race, Nate Ferguson was fourth (in 19:11), and led Solon to a team win (47-55) over Muscatine. Teammate Edward Richey was seventh (19:18) in that 87-runner field. The Spartans grabbed seven of the top 17 spots to win. Williamsburg was third (64 points), followed by Clear Creek-Amana (70), Mid-Prairie (153), Fort Madison (163) and Anamosa (197).
On the girls’ side, Mid-Prairie and Williamsburg went one-two; not surprising, since they are ranked first and second in Class 2A, as the season gets underway. And for longtime spectators who did a double-take, yes, that was another Hostetler way out in front. Following the leads set by her now graduated sisters– Marie and Anna– freshman Danielle crossed the finish line at 17:36, nearly two minutes ahead of the closest runner, her teammate, Jaden Yoder (19:33). Solon senior Kiersten Conway was the first Lady Spartan across, fifth at 19:48, in individual standings.
“Third to the top two teams in 2A? That’s a pretty good start to the season,” applauded Williams.
Solon Freshman Grace Federspiel got the start on varsity in the season opener and finished 12th overall, at 21:32. “As a freshman, running your first varsity competition can be overwhelming, Grace ran very competitively,” noted Williams.
Sophomore Mary Fiala was Solon’s third runner, 14th in 21:34. Junior Meghan O'Neill was on her shoulder (21:35) for 15th, followed by juniors Annika Kruse (17th, 21:52), Emma Bock (18th, 21:52) and Kaia Holtkamp (20th, 22:07).
In the girls’ team finish; Mid-Prairie grabbed the title with its low score of 22 points. Williamsburg (59), had sixth-rated (3A) Solon (63) on its heels. Clear Creek Amana (128), Muscatine (131), Fort Madison (164) and Anamosa (178) rounded out the standings.
“I thought it went well. I feel like I could do better,” reviewed Fiala. “I did better on my time trial. I know I will do better later in the season, but for a first meet? I think I did pretty good. I do like the hills. You know, if you go up a hill, then you are going to go down the hill, too.”
In the junior varsity field, Solon’s girls packed seven runners in the top nine spots, led by freshmen Anna Quillan (second, 21:57) and Ashlyn Williams (third, 22:12), beating Williamsburg, Mid Prairie, Muscatine and four schools with incomplete teams. “With seven in the top nine like that? Our depth is going to be real strong on the girls side through the season,” predicted Williams.
Cross country is perhaps THE sport in Iowa high schools, where social distancing in this age of COVID is a little better observed… and encouraged. The further away you get from the runner behind you, the better off you are! Still, Fiala admitted it’s been a weird season so far. “It hasn’t changed a ton, but it’s been different,” she said. “We are still able to get our same workouts in and everything. During our stretch, each day, we have to spread out and everything. So, it’s weird, but we get the same stuff done.”
Hinman noticed it more among the runners, if not the fans. “Coach Emy has been really great, trying to get people to social distance and stuff,” he emphasized. But at a meet run by others, he saw gaps. “(Lots of unmasked) people shouting right at us as we go by. Obviously, runners are not wearing masks when we run (past them). It’s pretty much running through the crossfire.”
Maybe room for improvement, for spectators, to reduce risk of spread, and a “thanks” for those who make the effort to do so?
Solon’s next meet is Sept. 3, at Kickers Complex in Iowa City; the Regina sponsored Bob Brown Invitational.