STATE CROSS COUNTRY: Mustangs climb to program-best 4th

FORT DODGE – Catching their breath just feet from the finish line, a couple of the East Marshall boys’ frontrunners weren’t excited with their races Saturday.

Though as the Mustangs have proven all season – they’re no one-trick ponies, but rather a stable of seven strong runners who can pick each other up when another falls back.

The Class 2A seventh-ranked East Marshall boys displayed that depth to piece together the best finish in school history, taking fourth with a score of 158 at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.

Top-ranked Monticello captured the team crown at 63 – 52 points ahead of No. 2 Gilbert. Sixth-ranked Unity Christian held off East Marshall by 20 points for a spot on the podium.

Freshman Nick Meling placed 22nd in 16 minutes, 57 seconds, to guide the Mustangs, while senior Ben Terrones (17:16) and junior Caleb Benzing (17:28) finished 33rd and 50th respectively. Sam Benzing (60th, 17:43) and Josh Benzing (64th, 17:49) rounded out the team score, while Drew Schossow (90th) and Rob Petrie (91st) each crossed in 18:19 to complete the East Marshall contingent.

Meling started out running with Terrones and Caleb Benzing, before surging ahead after West Marshall’s Nathan Bradley, who finished two spots shy of an all-state spot in 16:38.

While East Marshall’s pack got a little more stretched, Meling still felt the presence of his teammates to aid his performance.

“I still knew they were behind me because I could hear people cheering their names,” said the freshman.

“I’ve made friends from other schools too so I have more people to run with and try to keep up with throughout the race.”

Caleb Benzing and Terrones were hoping to be right with Meling stride for stride, but held on anyway to help the team improve nine places from 2012.

“I just didn’t have the race in me for some reason,” said Caleb Benzing.

“At the beginning all three of us tried to stick together on our top teamNick made his move and I just fell behind. I got in a pack of guys that I tried to stay in for the rest of the race and didn’t worry about time.”

Terrones also had his teammates in mind while working through his final race.

“I haven’t been doing too good individually this year, but I just knew it was my last race and tried to give it everything,” said Terrones, crediting the team’s pack mentality for their return trip to state.

“That’s the reason we’re back here. In practice we’re right together pushing each other. If someone falls back, we yell at them ‘Hey get up here, let’s go.’ We just try to bring that into the meets.”

Along with his top trio, Mustangs coach Erik Niggemyer credited his team’s other quartet in helping push the squad toward its best finish in school history.

“Just as they have all year, our 4 through 7 runners ran a nice consistent race and got stronger as the race progressed,” said Niggemyer.

“I can’t ask for anything more from them. They just do the right things and it reflected today.”

Bradley returned to Fort Dodge after a one-year absence and set his plan into motion steadily throughout the race, moving from a top-30 position all the way to 12th. While the 27th-ranked senior has benefited from running negative splits this season, his internal clock and racing instincts served as his guide rather than his stopwatch this time.

“It was all mental this race, I didn’t even bother looking at my watch because I knew there was a big pack ahead of me,” said Bradley, who turned in the Trojans’ top boys performance since Andy Goodman won the state title in 1990.

“Usually I rely on my watch, but I just relied on themIt all comes down to mental ability. If you see someone ahead of you and you know it’s your last race, you don’t hold anything back. You just give it your all.”

Monticello’s No. 2 ranked Michael Melbert reached the chute first in 15:18, two seconds ahead of North Polk’s No. 1-rated Thomas Pollard.