BRUNSVILLE, Iowa — The nationally-ranked North High School cross country team crossed off the first goal on its checklist on Thursday: Win the conference championship.
The Stars won the Missouri River meet at Prairie Rose Golf Course with a score of 16 points, led by Gabe Nash’s time of 15 minutes, 28 seconds on the 5,000-meter course. It’s the second meet at Prairie Rose this season where the Stars have scored a 16-point meet.
Nash wouldn’t have been able to run the time he had, if it weren’t for the confidence from his teammates.
That confidence, said senior Will Lohr, has helped him become not only a solid track and field distance runner, but also one in cross country.
The confidence came right before the Roy Griak meet up in Minneapolis.
Nash kept telling his teammates that he wasn’t a cross country athlete. He said that he was a track runner first.
Well, Lohr figured out a way to tell Nash that he was a cross country runner.
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“My teammates are the best teammates I could have,” Nash said. “These guys are fun to run with every day and I’m grateful to have them.”
The turnaround for Nash started before that, though.
Nash started to break through midway through the track season, and he was able to make it to state in a couple events.
The big change that Nash made was in his pacing.
Nash started out really fast, but he figured out — with the help of coach Abdier Marrero and father David Nash, who is also the Morningside University cross country coach — that those fast starts weren’t productive.
Running fast has some benefits, but not if one can keep that pace for the whole 5,000 meters.
So, Gabe, David and Marrero went to the drawing board to make some adjustments.
Gabe Nash learned that being more reserved in the first few hundred meters can help him use that energy for the final push.
That helped him on Thursday.
Nash was part of a pack that also consisted of Lohr, Natnael Kifle and Yemane Kifle, but with about 800 meters to go, Nash made that final push to edge himself from Lohr.
Lohr finished second in 15:30, Natnael Kifle was third in 15:36, and Yemane Kifle posted a 16:05 time, good for fourth.
It’s a four-headed monster ready to lead the Stars to a potential repeat as Class 4A state champions.
“It’s so much fun to run with Gabe, Natnael and Yemane,” Lohr said. “It’s like every day at practice, we’re pushing ourselves to the point where it’s fun. Yemane PR’d today, and that was great. We’re feeling really good about where we’re at. There’s no limits to what we can do.”
The Stars have four ranked runners in this week’s Iowa Association of Track Coaches Class 4A Top 30, led by Nash’s No. 2 ranking.
The other ranked Stars are Lohr in fifth, Natnael Kifle in sixth and Yemane KIfle 25th.
Much like the regular-season meet hosted by Le Mars, the Stars were one point shy of a perfect meet.
This time around, East senior Ryan Campbell placed fifth, running the course in 16:52.
North’s Jose Gutierrez was sixth (17:20), Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Carlos Rodriguez was seventh (17:26), SBL’s Hayden Gamble was eighth (17:32), Council Bluffs Jefferson’s Roi Soriano ninth (17:39) and Bishop Heelan’s Carter Ritz was 10th with a time of 17:50.
The last five MRAC all-conference runners — 11th through 15th — were Le Mars’ Juan Sanchez (17:51) and Michael Meis (17:55), Council Bluffs Lincoln’s Cody Smith (18:02), Crusaders senior Roberto Rundquist (18:13) and East junior Gavin Stoos (18:15).
SB-L was second as a team with 83 points while East was third at 85. Heelan was fourth with 104 points while West was seventh at 162.
West’s top runner was Filmon Gebra in 19th (18:23).
Downs wins girls race
East senior Kaia Downs has enjoyed running at Prairie Rose, and on Thursday, she claimed the conference title by about 30 seconds.
Downs ran the fastest race in MRAC meet history, as she did so in 18 minutes, 13 seconds.
Downs thought about getting that goal throughout the week, but she was surprised at how much she beat the conference record.
“I really like this course,” Downs said. “You feel like your legs are rolling the entire time, and it doesn’t even feel like you’re working. It’s nothing like just, awful.”
She saw what split she had at the one-mile mark and thought that was a little fast.
Downs later saw what split she had with less than a mile to go, and she went on a sprint to make sure the conference record was hers.
“I definitely told myself not to settle,” Downs said. “I hit my second mile at 5:56, and I knew I was running well. If I could maintain, I knew I could hit it. Then my body started taking over.”
Downs was equally as pleased to see East sophomore Ivy Mehlhaff place fourth in her first cross country meet ever.
She plays for the Black Raiders volleyball team, and her teammates were out there supporting Mehlhaff. At one point in the race, Mehlhaff waved at her teammates, surprised that they were there.
Mehlhaff wanted to try to run a race, but couldn’t find the time between volleyball practices and matches.
She runs on her own every day, and according to Downs, Mehlhaff recently ran a half-marathon.
Mehlhaff also ran cross country in middle school.
Mehlhaff’s time was 20:38.
“It’s crazy,” Mehlhaff said. “I was not quite prepared for that. I found a group of girls to hang with and ran with them the whole time.”
Mehlhaff will join the Black Raiders in Wednesday’s meet at Ankeny.
The Black Raiders placed second as a team with 58 points, ahead of SB-L’s 70 points for third.
The two runners in-between the two Black Raiders were North junior Elizabeth Jordan (19:38) and Heelan sophomore Brooklyn Stanley (20:28).
Crusaders win team race
The Crusaders won the team aspect of the meet, scoring 34 points. They put all five scoring runners in the Top 11.
Delaney Saulsbury was fifth (20:46), Maddie Demke seventh (21:20.85), Jada Newberg eighth (21:20.93) and Scarlett Walsh finished the scoring for the Crusaders with an 11th-place time of 21:30.
“We’re really excited and just really happy to be all-conference,” Stanley said. “We’ve had great energy as a team. We’re pushing each other to be the best that we can be at practices and at meets. If one person goes, we all go.”
The Siouxland area took all Top 15 spots for All-Conference.
Le Mars’ Rebecca Hulinsky was sixth in 21:20.15; Warriors runners Sabrina Hazuka (21.21.27) and Sophia Karras (21:21.34) were ninth and 10th; Bulldogs senior Lilly McNaughton was 12th (21:42); East juniors Alexys Jones (21:45) and Mariah Morrow (21:53) were 13th and 14th; SB-L’s Dani Rodriguez was 15th in 21:55.