Williams’ cross country team heading to State

“I am going to miss coaching this sport very much.  It has been a passion of mine, and I am thankful that I have had the opportunity for the past 28 years …”

—Don Williams, women’s cross country coach

The women’s cross country team placed second at Districts in Iowa City last Thursday, Oct. 19, landing the team a trip to the state meet on Oct. 28. Sophomore Mackenzie Michaels, senior Anna Hertz and senior Paige Kvale all qualified individually after placing in the top 15. Seniors Meg Schmitz, Caroline Ross, Madison Larson and junior Jessica Vandorn will all be competing for the team as well.

While the girls have been to the state meet before, this trip will be particularly special. Five of the seven athletes that make up the varsity team are seniors, making this the last race of their high school careers.

“It’s so weird,” Ross said. “This group has been together as runners for six years now, and four of us seniors went to the same elementary and junior high, so a lot of us have known each other for close to 12 years now. It’s really weird to be coming up on our last race with them It just, it’s exciting and nerve racking and sad. There are a lot of feelings involved.”

Vandorn agreed. “It’s kind of scary. I don’t know who’s coming up next year, and these guys have been some of my best friends for the past few years, and I’m really going to miss them.”

This year marks the end for more than the seniors, however. Head coach Don Williams will be retiring at the end of the season as well. After receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Williams felt it best to turn in his clipboard.

“It makes me really sad that he’s going through this because you can see him forgetting things along the way that you know he wouldn’t normally forget, but he is just such a great person. He really cares about the girls, and he gets so excited on meet day. The smile that he has on his face when we all high five right before a race — he is so happy. It’s his element, and I’m going to miss that,” Hertz said.

Ross added that, “He just has such a joyful heart, and it’s really sad to see him go through this, but it’s also very inspiring to see how loving and caring he is despite the circumstances.”

Coach Williams said, “I am going to miss coaching this sport very much.  It has been a passion of mine, and I am thankful that I have had the opportunity for the past 28 years to have privilege to play a small role in the lives of so many outstanding young women.  I have heard from a lot of alumni on how this sport has had such a dramatic impact on their lives.  We have used the slogan ‘WE > ME’ this year. That holds true for myself  as well. With the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, even though I feel very capable right now, I know that I could be putting the team at risk in the future if I continue, and assistant coach Amanda Johnson, who has been with us four years, is very capable of continuing our traditions,” he said.

“I would like to thank Bob Schmidt for inviting me to become a part of this awesome ride 28 years ago, and with the help of Gary Koenen, Troy Becker, Jane Carter, Betsy Schmitz, coach Johnson and especially the CF women’s XC team for making this year special for me.”

While the girls will miss running together as a team, they will especially miss having Williams as a coach.

“It’s kind of nice having both of this be our last years. We can end it together and make the most of it together. I’m really glad that I got to spend my senior year with him,” Schmitz said.

On Saturday morning, the seven varsity girls will practice their strides on the starting line. With their hair dyed red — a tradition for CF athletes attending women’s state cross country — Kvale will lead the girls in a team chant, followed by Larson leading a team prayer.

“One of the small things that I appreciate very much every year is seeing the girls in their final run out before every meet, huddle and pray together,” Williams said. “That means a lot to me.  Another thing that has attracted new girls to come out for this very grueling sport is the attitude of encouragement.  Everybody makes a difference. That seems to be expected and set as an example by our leaders every season.”

The state cross country meet will take place this Saturday, Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. in Fort Dodge. Students can purchase pep bus tickets in the front office.

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