It’s back-to-back bids for East Marshall
AMES – A cross country team is only as strong as its fifth runner, and the Mustang boys take that to heart.
Placing all five scoring runners in the top 18, sixth-ranked East Marshall claimed second with 68 points in a Class 2A state-qualifier meet at the Iowa State University Cross Country course Thursday.
Only outdone by No. 2 Gilbert’s tally of 48, the Mustangs utilized eighth and ninth-place finishes by Nick Meling and Caleb Benzing to earn back-to-back trips to state and their seventh bid as a program. Fort Dodge St. Edmond (146) earned the final qualifying bid by holding off CMB (152) and South Tama County (154).
Meling, a freshman, led East Marshall in 17 minutes, 37 seconds, while Caleb Benzing was right on his heels in 17:38. The two surged together back and forth down the final straightaway, signifying the main strengths the Mustangs have relied upon all season – their balance and depth.
“By the last turnaround I was right up with (Nick) and we just kept passing each other,” said Caleb Benzing. “On this team we never have the thought that one guy is always going to beat us. There’s always that friendly competition where we’re always pushing each other harder. Whoever’s ahead is really egging on the guy behind him to come up and catch him because we just want to stay together and pull each other along.”
Gilbert’s top duo of Wesley Greder and Thomas Pollard, the 2012 state runner-up, pulled the Tigers to the title with the top two places as both finished in 16:52.
Meling got out quick from the gun and found himself among some elite company early on. The freshman wrestler held his spot through the first half before Benzing joined him.
“I started off strong and attacked the hills like I usually do,” said Meling, who is ranked No. 29 and is now strongly leaning toward making cross country a four-year commitment. “I wasn’t expecting to run this good, but it turned out that I’m going to be doing this from now on.”
Ben Terrones (18:03), Sam Benzing (18:16) and Josh Benzing (18:21) swept the 16th through 18th positions to complete the team score while Rob Petrie was 25th and Drew Schossow was 28th.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how they ran,” said East Marshall coach Erik Niggemyer. “They just ran their best race of the year – all seven of them. It was a great effort all around.”
West Marshall senior Nathan Bradley earned his second trip to state with a fifth-place outing of 17:22. The 28th-ranked Trojan got out a bit slower than he wanted and though his wristwatch came up blank a half mile into the race, the senior didn’t panic. Instead he relied on the clock in his head.
“It’s kind of a mental thing,” said Bradley, who earned his second trip to Fort Dodge after missing the cut a year ago. “I heard my watch click and looked at it about a half mile in and it was still at 00:00. I knew I had to keep it all in my head.”
Bradley moved his way into the top-10 and continued to pick off runners before closing strong down the finish – an area that derailed his state bid last fall.
“Once I got down to that last stretch I knew it was all mental,” said Bradley. “In my head it was my last race, I wasn’t even thinking about state.”
The level-headed approach has helped Bradley perform consistently all season so it came as no surprise to Trojan coach Brian Weig when he saw his senior quickly rebound from a slow start.
“The good thing about Nathan is that he always knows where he’s at,” said Weig. “He’s extremely consistent, he’s been here enough and he knows what his strengths are.”
South Tama junior Robert Tyynismaa and sophomore Blake Keller used strong second halves to put themselves in position for a top-10 spot, though neither could close the final gap, finishing 11th and 13th, respectively.
STC coach George Kuhter could resonate with his runners but is certain the near-miss will push the pair harder during the off-season.
“Now I know what it’s like to finish fourth in the Olympics,” said Kuhter, who believed the final six spots were up for grabs. “I figured last night that there were 22 kids that could finish in those last six spots. (Robert and Blake) will both be back and I bet they’ll be stronger than ever.”
Full strength wasn’t an option for South Hardin senior Tim Rose Thursday as the Tiger is still reeling from illness and an ankle injury sustained at Saturday’s NICL meet.
Despite a noticeable hitch in his stride, the 19th-rated runner kept contact around the top-15 for much of the race, before getting passed up by several competitors toward the end. Rose finished 22nd in 18:46 – two seconds ahead of teammate Zac Farrell.
South Hardin coach Mike Olson knew it would be an uphill battle for Rose in his bid for a return ticket to state.
“(Tim) just didn’t have it. He never really got engaged into the race and I think he’s still kind of sick from last week,” said Olson. “I don’t know if it was so much the ankle as I still think he’s got an ear infection and coughing from last week. He knew how the girls came out with a tough outing and I think that took a little bit of wind out of his sails at the start line too. He was expecting a bus load going up (to state) and it just emotionally took a toll on him.”
South Hardin finished 10th out of 13 teams with a score of 254, three spots behind West Marshall (218).
The state cross country meet is Nov. 2 at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The Class 2A boys race begins at 1:30 p.m.
East Marshall finished 13th at the state meet last fall. All five scoring members are back from the contingent including Terrones, who placed 27th in Fort Dodge.