Strong start stymied by deep conference field
AMES – When the Bobcats were in plain sight of MHS coach Chad Pietig, they followed the race strategy to a ‘T.’
But somewhere amongst the hills, and away from the eyes of most fans and coaches, the Marshalltown boys’ cross country team let off the gas after a promising start. The Central Iowa Conference Championship field didn’t wait around as the Bobcats finished 12th out of as many teams with a score of 311 in a deep pool of teams at the ISU Course Thursday.
Class 4A No. 2 ranked Johnston placed all five scoring runners in the top-15 to cruise to the title with 45 points. The host Little Cyclones (74), ranked 12th, ousted No. 4 Waukee by four points, while Dowling Catholic (83) and Valley (94), rated sixth and 11th respectively, completed the top five.
Dowling’s Ryan Schweizer, ranked fifth, pulled away from the Tigers’ second-rated Daniel Soto to reach the chute in 15 minutes, 58 seconds, eight seconds ahead of Soto. A total of nine ranked runners competed in the field of 83 runners.
Marshalltown came through with a strong finish, but the brief lull in the middle gave them too much ground to make up.
“I wanted them to challenge themselves early in the race and not wait. They did that but it appeared somewhere around the mile that we maybe thought the pace was too fast and started to back off a bit,” said Pietig.
“We gave up a lot of spots from the mile to the mile and a half, but then we finished pretty strong. Part of that is just inexperience running against these caliber of teams. I don’t know that they truly trust the training they’ve done to push through that second mile.”
Imad Amenzou paced the Bobcats with a time of 17:00 to place 29th, though the rest of the pack reached the chute over 90 seconds later.
Sam Johnson took 64th in 18:32, while Alex Mason was six positions behind at 18:46. Nate Phillips (73rd, 18:53) and Angel Pizano (75th, 18:58) rounded out the Bobcats’ scoring quintet as Andrew Potter (77th, 19:00) and Hunter Barnard (79th, 19:01) finished neck-and-neck for to complete Marshalltown’s unit.
Amenzou has had a nagging hamstring the past few weeks and felt his upper right leg stiffen in the hills.
“My hamstring tightened up a mile into the race,” said Amenzou, who is in his first season of cross country as a senior.
“I went out a little bit too fast, but I was feeling good racing with these people.”
Pietig says the senior is still learning the ropes to racing, but definitely has the capability to compete for state berth in the state qualifier at MCC on Oct. 24.
“He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s very inexperienced when it comes to racing these caliber of kids,” said Pietig.
“A lot of these varsity kids have been racing for five years and he’s got eight meets, so he’s trying to learn everything he can.”
Though that lack of experience cuts both ways, as Amenzou shows no fear of mixing it up with the top runners in the front.
“He’s not afraid of anyone,” said Pietig.
“There are a couple of times we’ve had to tell him to back it off. He wants to win and he wants to be up front.”
Pietig won’t be telling his crew to back it off at the state qualifier as he hopes the familiarity of racing on the home course gives his team the confidence to leave caution in the wind.
“If we have anything to work on, it’s that part (the middle) before districts,” said Pietig.
“These guys have done a ton of miles and a ton of work. I’d like to see them trust that and just let it go. If we slow down in the last 200 meters because we ran too hard the first three miles, then that’s what happens. I’d rather we do that than back off in the middle.”
The Class 4A state-qualifying meet at MCC also features top-ranked Linn-Mar, No. 5 Cedar Falls, and No. 13 Iowa City High, along with Des Moines East, Des Moines North, Mason City, Newton, Southeast Polk and Urbandale. The top three teams plus the first 10 individuals advance to the state meet Nov. 2 in Fort Dodge.
Amenzou spoke with a coach from Waldorf College after his raceThe MHS JV boys placed ninth (293) out of 12 teams. Tony Smith led the team in 49th in a time of 19:29. The MHS JV girls finished 10th (273).