Both Comet squads place at state
Another impressive display was put on by the North Polk cross country program as both Comet teams made it to state together for the fourth year in a row.
Coming off a school-best second-place finish at state in Class 2A last year, the North Polk boys had another banner campaign this fall. The Comet boys didn’t have the depth of last year’s team, but behind three talented seniors and one impressive up-and-comer they won eight meets and ended up placing sixth at state in 2A.
"We had a highly-successful season," North Polk head coach Steve Leach said. "During the regular season and through the state qualifying meet only Dallas Center-Grimes (once) and Gilbert (twice) beat us."
The North Polk boys were victorious at Johnston, Ballard, Kuemper Catholic, Prairie City-Monroe, North Polk, Des Moines East, Saydel and the 2A state qualifying meet in Panora. The Comets took second to Gilbert at Nevada and the Heart of Iowa Conference meets and they were runner-up to Dallas Center-Grimes in their opening meet at Grimes.
The Johnston victory was the most satisfying for the Comet boys. They were able to knock off Gilbert for the title to set the tone for the rest of the season.
"I think the boys experienced tremendous growth when they beat Gilbert," Leach said. "Gilbert didn’t run their full lineup that day, but mentally I think it provided my guys with the confidence it takes to believe you can run with anybody."
North Polk finished the regular season ranked third in 2A by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches. The state meet didn’t go as well as planned with lead runner Peter Smith coming back from a sinus infection and other runners struggling, but a top-six finish still gave the Comets an impressive accomplishment.
Smith, Ryley Sandberg and Reed Smith formed the backbone of the Comet boys’ team. Those three runners led the Comets to state in each year of their careers.
"During their collective careers this senior class was represented at Fort Dodge by at least one of its members all four years," Leach said. "These athletes were a joy to coach because they knew how to keep the mood at practices lighthearted, while still running hard enough to be productive."
Peter Smith took first at the DCG, Ballard, Kuemper Catholic, PCM, North Polk and Des Moines East meets and he was third at the HOIC meet and second at the state qualifying meet. At state Peter came in 54th and his top 5-kilometer time of the season was 16 minutes, three seconds at Johnston.
Sandberg took second at the North Polk, Saydel and Des Moines East meets. He was fourth at conference, third at the qualifying meet and led the team with a 20th-place time of 16:55.7 at state. Sandberg’s fastest time was a 16:50 showing at Johnston.
Reed placed fourth at the Kuemper Catholic, Nevada and state qualifying meets, seventh at conference and 74th at state. His best time was 17:38 at Nevada.
Sophomore Christian Berglund emerged as a strong fourth runner for the Comet boys. Berglund placed fifth at the North Polk Invite, 13th at conference, sixth at the qualifying meet and 35th at state, where he ran his top time of 17:17.
Nick Kibby, Corey Richards, Michael Rimathe and Matthew Turk also ran varsity for the Comet boys.
Kibby, Richards and Turk ran their best times of the season at state with respective showings of 18:30, 18:13 and 18:09. Rimathe peaked with a 19:26 time at Johnston.
"The biggest challenge was finding four runners to replace the seniors who graduated from last year’s state runner-up squad and molding them into a competitive squad," Leach said. "I enjoyed seeing Christian develop into such a strong fourth runner. It was rewarding to watch Matthew, Corey, Nick and Michael move into varsity positions at various times and help the boys win so many meet championships."
For the North Polk girls the whole regular season was a grind.
Leach didn’t want the girls to peak too early so they gradually built to their peak level late in the year. During the process it appeared the Comet girls weren’t going to get back to state after finishing in the middle of the pack in several meets.
But the strategy ended up paying off after all. North Polk won its final regular season meet at Saydel and then took third at the qualifying meet to earn a seventh-straight trip to state.
"This is a sport where on the girls’ side freshmen and sophomores have the most impact," Leach said. "We were one of only two 2A teams to have four seniors in the lineup at state and we didn’t’ have any freshmen and only one sophomore. It was a major accomplishment to qualify for state."
The Saydel meet was the turning point. A win over a small field at the North Polk Invitational was the only time the Comet girls even sniffed victory prior to Saydel, but that victory to close out the regular season gave the team the extra push it needed to make it back to state.
At state the Comet girls stepped up and finished 12th out of 15 teams in 2A.
Injuries played a part in the Comet girls’ regular season struggles. With the health issues and frustration of not matching the success the past few seasons it took great senior leadership to help get North Polk through.
Like with the boys, Leach had high praise for senior runners Sybbie Sears, Samantha Sinclair, Tessa Subra and Vanessa Erickson. He said they helped the season go by smoothly despite the challenges the team faced trying to get back to state."
"I enjoyed how easy the athletes on both teams were to coach," Leach said. "In my opinion we had very little conflict this season."
Sears was the lead runner all season for North Polk. Though she was unable to duplicate her sixth-place individual finish at state last year, Sears still stepped up with several top-notch performances.
Sears’ best finish was second at the Saydel Invitational. She took eighth at the HOIC meet, qualified for state individually with a sixth-place performance at the qualifying meet and ended up 50th at state.
Sears’ fastest 4-kilometer time was 16:25 at Ballard.
Sinclair had a nice finish to her senior year.
Sinclair came on down the back stretch to take 11th at the conference meet with a season-best time of 16:50. She then placed third at Saydel, 11th at the qualifying meet and 64th at state.
Subra placed 16th at the North Polk Invitational and ran a season-best time of 18:58 at Ballard. She took 52nd at conference, 58th at the qualifying meet and 119th at state.
Erickson’s best time was 18:47 at the HOIC meet. Her top place was 15th at the North Polk Invitational and she was 118th at state.
Rachel Zimmerman, Emerson Sears, Ohara Lesher and Olivia Patterson were the top underclassmen to compete for the North Polk girls.
Zimmerman ran in the third spot most of the season.
Zimmerman’s best place was seventh at both the North Polk and Saydel meets and her fastest time was 17:10 at Ballard. Zimmerman came in 25th at the HOIC meet, 16th at the qualifying meet and 85th at state.
Emerson had a strong finish to her junior season. Emerson placed 31st at the HOIC meet, fifth at Saydel, 32nd at the qualifying meet and 76th at state, where she ran a career-best time of 17:08.
Lesher came in 13th at the North Polk meet, 45th at the HOIC meet, 31st at the qualifying meet and 92nd at state in her junior year. Her top time was 17:35 at state.
Patterson took 20th at the North Polk meet and her peak time was 18:40 at Ballard. Amanda Schwab also ran varsity for the Comets and her best time was 19:25 at Ballard.
Next season it will be tough for both teams to make a return trip to state as they both face major rebuilding. But with the strength of the program built up over the past few years both squads will still have high expectations.
"Ohara, Emerson, Rachel, Olivia and Jackie Moeckly all ran varsity at some point and time and there are a number of eighth-grade girls who have run middle school cross country, so I think our numbers should be comparable to this year’s team. But the we will have a challenge trying to duplicate what Sybbie, Samantha, Tessa and Vanessa accomplished during their careers."
"For the boys Ryley, Peter and Reed were part of three top-six teams at state and those have been the three highest finishes during my 15-year career," Leach added. "Obviously replacing them will be a daunting task. But it is comforting to know that Christian and Matthew will return with this season’s state meet experience under their belts. We also have some freshmen and sophomores who learned a great deal about hard work from the seniors, but they will have to develop very quickly in order for us to make and impact next season."