Cross country team overcomes setbacks at Rich Engel

Catastrophe struck at the Rich Engel Classic on Sept. 14 in the men’s varsity race, as their 2nd, 3rd and 4th runners did not finish the race. This brought out the team’s depth, as their 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th guys filled in the shoes, keeping the Tigers undefeated season alive.

On Sept. 14, the men’s and women’s cross country teams ran their fourth race of the season, following Cedar Rapids Prairie, Linn Mar and Marshalltown. The meet took place at Birdsall Park, which has been home to the Rich Engel classic for the last few decades.

On the women’s side the team had another top three varsity team finish, as they came in third place. They were led by senior Maddie Gallagher, who is a standout runner for the Tigers. She finished 12th overall, with her fastest time so far this season, clocking in at 20:09. She was followed by senior Anna Becker, who finished 17th, 15 seconds back with her time of 20:24. Junior Josee Simonson was close behind, finishing in 20th, following her were juniors Zoe Zylstra and Emily Meyer, who both finished within the top 40. This was enough to earn the women’s team third place at the varsity level. 

I am very proud of my performance at the home meet, but I am also proud of how we have grown together and learned which areas each of us need encouragement to better ourselves. This year we have also run a lot of successful races as a pack, which has come as a result of running all of our workouts together. We all know how to run our own race, but at this point in the season we are using that to our advantage to help each other PR,” Gallagher said. “For the rest of the season, I hope to be a good influence on the rest of the girls and leave a lasting impact for years to come, with this being my final year on this team. I want to feel like I left a positive impact on our team’s environment. As a team, I know a lot of us would love to qualify for State again, to keep our streak going and make State an expectation for years to come.”

Zylstra said, “Birdsall was one of our strongest meets this season. Maddie Gallagher had been out because of an injury for Marshalltown and having her back was great! As a team, we finished third, which was great considering the competition. Individually, so far this year I am proud of my determination. I had a little rough patch at the beginning of the season, but I am starting to get into my groove again. This year the upperclassmen definitely have big shoes to fill. The class of 2023 had left a huge impact on our lives. Hopefully, myself and my peers will be influential for the Freshmen and sophomores.”

In the JV race, the women’s team finished in fifth, as they were led by sophomore Anna Brodhal. The scorers for the JV race consisted of Brodhal (17th), freshman Maggie Verdaught (20th), junior Catherine Dierks (29th), junior Ellie Anton (30) and freshman Evelyn Schmitz (35th). 

In the men’s varsity race, tragedy struck on the second lap of the two lap course. At the top of the hill by Pheasant Ridge Golf Course, senior Luke Hartman, the Tigers’ third runner, had a Syncope, which left him unconscious. Before he fell to the ground, senior Ahmed Aldamak, the Tigers second runner, caught him, assisting him to the ground. 

Hartman recovered, but his race was over. Aldamak finished the last half mile of the race after making sure Hartman was conscious again, coming in second to last, as he finished with a time of 26:57, 10 minutes off of his personal best. 

Sophomore Jaden Merrick led the whole second lap, not looking back. Unaware of what happened behind him, he finished in first with a time of 15:46.9, earning him the course record and the meet record. It was also only the third time there has been a sub-16 minute performance on the course. 

With Hartman and Aldamak out of the race, and also junior Connor Martin not being able to start due to injury, this left it up to the Tigers’ 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th runners. Without hesitation, these athletes stepped up, scoring for the Tigers. 

Merrick led the way finishing in 1st, followed by junior Kieran Degroote, who finished with a time of 16:50, placing him 13th. Junior John Ferguson was right behind him, finishing in 14th. Seniors Brayden Frey and Jack Considine rounded out the scorers, finishing in 15th (Frey) and 21st (Considine). 

Ferguson said, “The team is like a brotherhood, and I think that was very clear with the way Ahmed stepped up to help an injured teammate, jeopardizing the race he was having. It shows that it truly is a family, and that we all work as one. I am proud of how the team has bonded this year, and I am also proud of myself individually with how I have improved, and seeing the hard work we have put in the last few months to be paying off.”

On the JV side of the meet, the men’s team had nearly a perfect score, as they won with 19 points. They were led by sophomore James Mandt, as he captured his first high school cross country meet win, on the home course, finishing first with a time of 18:08. He was followed by a tight pack, consisting of freshman Dominic Williams, who finished 2nd, sophomore Gaige Martin in 3rd, freshman Porter Meyers in 5th and junior Chase Kies in 8th. The squad put seven runners inside of the top 15. 

Both teams will travel to Dubuque on Thursday, Sept. 21, as they prepare for their fifth meet of the season. The meet will take place at the Dubuque Soccer complex, which is one of the Tigers’ fastest courses they will be on this season. Both teams will be looking to walk away victorious, as the men’s team will continue to strive to stay undefeated, after a near catastrophe at the home meet. 

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