Men’s cross country finishes 11th at State, two women’s members finish 77th, 85th

Senior Brandon Conrad finished 25th at the state cross country meet in Fort Dodge on Saturday, Oct. 27.

Silence filled the Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge on Saturday, Oct. 27 as the top high school runners in Iowa braced themselves on the white line for the sound of the starting pistol, launching the 5-kilometer race of the high school state cross country meet. 

The men’s cross country varsity team punched their tickets to the state meet after placing second at the IAHSAA Class 4A Kennedy District meet on Oct. 18 in Cedar Rapids. 

Overall, the men’s team placed 11th in the state 4A Division on Saturday. 

The state cross country course is famous for having crowded side lines and cheering at both ends of the course during the races. 

“The team ran great today. The course is a super acutely intense, wild chaotic place, so they did a good job at getting out in the midst of chaos and then settling in and just going to work and working hard,” men’s cross country coach Scott Gall said. “I am proud of all of them trying to hang in there and being tough the whole way.”

Senior Brandon Conrad ran his last state meet on Saturday and finished 25th out of 121 runners. “I feel disappointed because I was aiming for top 10 or top five, and I didn’t make it up there. I went out fast with a group, and then I just died and ran out of energy,” he said. 

Over the cross country season, Conrad had beaten many of the competitors that ran alongside him in the state meet. 

“I think that they just had good races, and I had a bad day today. It’s kind of how cross country works sometimes. I am not done running yet, so that’s a way to look at it,” Conrad said. 

Although it was Conrad’s last high school state meet, the rest of the men’s varsity cross country team that ran at State were juniors Hollis Wilson (finishing 64th), Ethan Kober (80th), sophomores Michael Goodenbour (63rd), Alex Mujica (66th), Eli Smith (42nd) and freshman Brayden Burnett (62nd). 

The young team is already making plans to return to the state meet next year.

“Mindset wise, I think running is just a learning curve, and you have to learn how to be stronger and tougher and not give in throughout the season,” Gall said. “As we get older, too, for us I think one of the struggles was just trying to stay healthy throughout the fall.”

As one of the younger runners on the varsity team, Eli Smith was the second runner to finish for Cedar Falls High School at the state meet. “My goal next year is at least top 20 at State. I also think stepping up because we are losing Brandon, who is our top runner, so being a leader is a huge goal of mine for next season,” Smith said. 

As new head coach, Gall acquired a strong cross country program from former coach Troy Becker, who is now the athletic director. “Coach Becker did such a good job at that climate and that community. There are such positive people, it made it a lot easier for me to come in and just be part of that and not feel like I had to really cultivate that as much as just support it and try to encourage the boys to keep it going,” Gall said.  

On the women’s cross country team, they also started the season with a new coach. Long-time coach Don Williams retired and former women’s cross country assistant coach Amanda Johnson stepped up to be head coach, with Leah Jennings as the new assistant coach for the season. 

“The whole season the team time together was really special for me being a coach this year,” Jennings said.  

The women’s team lost its chance to go to State by one point to Linn-Mar High School at the district meet, but had two individuals qualify for State. Freshman Paige Wageman finished 77th, and junior Mackenzie Michael finished 85th. 

Johnson said the state meet was a beneficial experience for her runners. “I would say overall the race went pretty good. I think that learning from this race is going to be valuable because this race tends to get out really hard, and sometimes when you get caught up with all of that, sometimes it makes it hard to finish strong,” Johnson said. “Mentally it can be really tough, but it was a good experience, especially for Paige to be here. I know for Mackenzie, she is definitely wanting to improve for next year.”

For a first-time state meet runner, Wageman got a taste of the more competitive atmosphere.

“The first mile people went out really hard, so it was hard to stay in my spot. I try to go pretty fast in the beginning and then stride out in the middle and sprint into the finish, but every race and course are different,” Wageman said. “The competition was pretty tough, but it was beautiful out, and I had a good time. Next year, I want to run hard and make it back here again.”

For the past three years, Michael has led the team as one of the top runners for Cedar Falls High School. “Ultimately, pacing determined what happened in my race. I am happy in a way with how I did. I tried my best, but I am also ready for what lies ahead in track. Next year, I really want to work on pacing myself during races,” Michael said. 

As the cross country season closes, coaches are already planning on what to improve for next year’s state meet. 

“It is really important to reflect on the season and see what did go well and what didn’t go well and then make those changes going into next year. We want to make sure we have a unified approach to every race and make sure that every girl feels like they are key to winning,” Johnson said.

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