Mustang harriers ready to make last fall foray

LE GRAND – Many have shelved their spikes for sneakers, their running shorts for singlets and their fartleks and tapers for fast breaks and free throws.

Not in Le Grand. Not at East Marshall.

For 14 Mustangs, basketball, wrestling or any other post-fall season endeavors can wait, if just for one more day.

This afternoon both East Marshall cross country teams will toe the line one final time in the Class 2A section of the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge.

This year’s Mustang contingent marks the first time since 2004 that both teams will be represented on the big stage.

The 13th-ranked girls will set off on their final race at 1 p.m., followed by the seventh-ranked boys at 1:30 p.m.

Regardless of where East Marshall ends up in the final standings and on the clock, the journey alone has been well worth the time under the guidance of first-year head coach Erik Niggemyer.

Previously a volunteer coach for four seasons with the Mustangs following an equal stint helping out at Iowa City Regina, Niggemyer has laid out a few simple goals for his runners in their last go-round of 2013.

Besides wanting to see each runner turn in its best time of the year, the Mustang coach hopes each comes away with a lasting final snapshot that goes beyond what the stopwatch reads.

“I just want them to give their best and make some memories of the season being at state with their teammates,” said Niggemyer. “It’s not a given that they’ll ever get back here so I want them to enjoy it, but also do what they’ve done all season – give their best.”

Both squads bring along some seasoned runners that have experienced the state meet atmosphere before and have shared some words of wisdom for the newcomers.

Senior Kristen Amendt is making her third appearance in Fort Dodge and has written motivational notes for each of her teammates – following up on the messages she wrote for the state qualifier.

“I wrote a note to each of them about state – about what to expect, what it’s going to be like and how proud of them I am,” said Amendt. “It’s awesome as a senior going to state with your team. It’s better than just going individually.

Sophomore Haley Fye, who qualified as a freshman, shares that mindset and has tried to steady any uncertainties in the state novices – including senior Brooke Bouton, junior Kaylee Howe, and freshmen Bobbi Amendt, Carrington Curphy and Megan Pansegrau.

“They’re kind of nervous but I just tell them, ‘I know it’s state, but it’s still just another meet,’ said Fye. ‘You still just have to keep calm and work together as a team like we’ve done the whole year.'”

Following that thought process, Niggemyer has applied a lighter tone in this week’s practices while still making sure the necessary work is done. Incorporating some softballs the girls found on one of their runs into their speedwork, Niggemyer heaved the softballs for the girls to sprint after. Those along with other “souvenirs” that the girls found have been used in relay races to keep their speed intact during this week’s taper.

The boys return four scoring runners from last year’s 13th-place unit as they make the school’s seventh state appearance in school history.

Senior Ben Terrones knows this second trip will be it, so he’s soaking up every last moment with his teammates before moving on to basketball.

“It’s been a lot of fun since it’s our last week – and for the seniors, their last week ever. The first couple days we were working hard, but we’ve just been enjoying it,” said Terrones, who worked in a few jumpers to his workout Friday and has encouraged this year’s trio of state newcomers – juniors Josh and Sam Benzing and freshman Nick Meling – to take an even-keel approach into Saturday.

“I’ve just told them to enjoy it and relax, it’s just another meet,” he said. “Just run like you’ve run all year and we’ll be fine.”

Josh and Sam Benzing were fans cheering on their triplet brother Caleb last fall. Though when two spots opened up over the offseason in the team’s top-seven, Caleb made the right recruiting pitch to get his brothers in the picture.

“It’s been nice to share this experience with them,” said Caleb. “I told them they could help the team and be good, but I never thought that they would be right up there to make up the rest of our top (five).”

The boys’ squad – also featuring senior state returnees Rob Petrie and Drew Schossow – has enjoyed more free reign during the final week of training as Niggemyer has allowed both teams to choose their routes for their last few runs.

While the girls have found their souvenirs around town, the boys have found their calling out on a path in the woods – traversing across a cornfield to get there.

While their freelance routes have taken them different places, both teams have shared the same mindset – enjoying the experience of the run in the company of teammates.

And that’s been perfect practice for how Niggemyer wants each of his runners to approach today.

“Whatever happens, happens…but hopefully they’ll run their best race of the year since they’re relaxed and enjoying it.”


Other area state qualifiers include South Tama County senior Taylor Ellenbecker, who is making her state debut and also will compete in the Class 2A field. Junior Abi Watson of North Tama is coming off a 10th-place finish and will return to the Class 1A race starting at 2 p.m.

West Marshall senior Nathan Bradley is making his second trek after a one-year hiatus and will join the Mustang boys in Class 2A. BCLUW seniors Cole Silver and Derek Coulter represent Class 1A boys – the last race of the day – at 2:30 p.m. Coulter is making his fourth trip to Fort Dodge, while Silver enters his first.