Mustangs making return trip
AMES – After missing a state team bid by a mere 16 points a year ago, Haley Fye and the Mustangs couldn’t wait for a second chance.
Shooting out of the pack from the opening gun, Fye and the rest of her teammates showed they meant business.
Securing its first state bid in eight years, East Marshall claimed runner-up with 97 points in a Class 2A state-qualifier meet at the Iowa State University Cross Country Course Thursday.
Third-ranked Gilbert ran away with the title with a score of 21, and Roland-Story (118) took third. Gilbert’s top-rated Grace Gibbons broke away from the field, winning in 14 minutes, 55 seconds, as the Tigers claimed the top four spots and placed five in the top 10.
Fye placed fifth in 16:06, while sisters Bobbi (16:19) and Kristen Amendt (16:20) finished eighth and ninth, respectively.
“It’s amazing, it hasn’t happened in a really long time and we’re so proud,” said Fye of the state qualifying bid, the Mustangs’ first since they placed 12th in 2005. “We’ve worked together so well as a team this year and we couldn’t be happier.”
Earning her second trip to Fort Dodge, Fye broke from the gun early and her teammates followed suit.
“I had a lot of adrenaline in the beginning and I just decided to do my regular race and get a strong finish so I wouldn’t (have to) come from behind like last year,” said the 16th-ranked sophomore. “I didn’t want to be close to not going, I wanted to be in the top 10 for sure.”
Freshman Bobbi Amendt caught up to her sister, senior Kristen Amendt, late as the two worked together down the final straightaway.
“We talked to each other and just stayed motivated with each other,” said the senior, who qualified for state for the third time. “I couldn’t be more proud of (Bobbi) than I am right now.”
Carrington Curphy (34th, 17:46) and Brooke Bouton (41st, 17:59) also helped East Marshall extend its season.
“Brooke ran her best race of the year,” said East Marshall coach Erik Niggemeyer. “She lost a couple weeks in the middle of the season due to illness but she’s just steadily progressed and Carrington has been consistent all year long.”
South Tama County senior Taylor Ellenbecker kept her prep career going with a sixth-place performance (16:09) as the Trojans finished 13 points out of a team qualifying bid at 131.
“I just tried to stay with (Fye) and Claire (Damon),” said Ellenbecker, who got some promising news from her coach, George Kuhter, midway through the race. “Around the first mile I was in 12th and was going to try to hang on as well as I could. Once coach told me I was sixth, I just decided I would stay there.”
Ellenbecker was coming off a couple tough races and missed practice Tuesday due to low blood-sugar levels, though the senior didn’t want to close her season on a down note.
“She did a really good job of just talking herself into doing this,” said Kuhter. “She didn’t want to stop racing and she ran her best race of the year at the most appropriate time.”
South Hardin’s Claire Damon and the 10th-ranked Tigers struggled through the NICL meet after illness and a few other setbacks struck the squad the week before. Still, Damon found herself in contention of a top-10 spot as she made the final turn to the finish, before beginning to stagger sideways. Her father stopped her and helped her off the course with around 300 meters to go.
“Once I turned that corner, I don’t really remember much of it,” said Damon, who was reduced to running indoors all week after missing the NICL meet because of illness Saturday. “I just remember my body slowly starting to stop. Right when my dad pulled me off (the course), I got super mad because I knew the second he touched me I’d be disqualified from the race, but I gave it all I had. I was running sideways and there’s nothing you can really do at that time.”
Damon was escorted on a Gator to the team bus as the Tigers’ team bid came up short, placing eighth overall at 190.
Miquela Teske finished two spots shy of an individual bid in 16:32, while Lydia Rose finished 17th and Megan Carr was 20th.
With Kylee Zoske also working through illness, Tiger coach Mike Olson said Damon was going to go all out and in the end, the Tigers’ lack of depth spelled trouble.
“If we had a couple more kids, maybe Claire coasts in with Miquela in the teens and we qualify as a team, but Claire knew we needed every point. The girls gave everything they had. Miquela ran real well and Lydia and Megan both ran real solid races and were close to where we thought they’d be. We just ran out of bodies.”
Allison Hilleman crossed the finish in 27th (17:31) to lead West Marshall to 11th overall with a tally of 252.
The state cross country meet is Nov. 2 at Fort Dodge’s Lakeside Municipal Golf Course. The Class 2A girls race starts at 1 p.m.
Niggemeyer hopes his Mustangs don’t have to wait another eight years for their next trip.
“Hopefully this is just another building block in trying to become a consistent program,” said the Mustangs’ first-year coach.
“We’re trying to something like Gilbert where they’re always up at state every year with a chance to win. That’s what we’re hoping to build toward. Hopefully we can use this as another building block and a recruiting tool to get more kids out to run.”
Damon tried to put the rough finish in perspective as the Tigers return their entire varsity lineup next season.
“It just stinks that I was probably 300 yards out (from qualifying), but our whole team comes back next year so that’s all we can really focus on. We’ve got to leave this in the past. … Hopefully we’ll get a couple more people for some depth so that if something like this happens and someone is sick, we can just fill in and replace them.”