Pekin lands six on All-GTNS cross country teams
Both the experienced and the not-so-experienced dotted the All-Golden Triangle News Service map this fall. Out of the 14 cross country runners chosen to the All-GTNS team, five harriers are repeat selections while six others stepped foot on the courses for the very first time.
Two teams, however, rose above the rest at the end of the season in Fort Dodge. On the girls’ side, defending Class 1A champion Pekin continued its tradition of excellence with a second-place finish at the Class 1A state meet. The Highland boys, meanwhile, capped the most successful season in program history, taking home seventh place in Class 1A.
For their efforts, the Pekin girls earned five out of eight spots on the All-Golden Triangle News Service girls’ cross country team, while Highland claimed four of eight spots on the boys’ side.
Leading the charge for the Pekin girls was none other than 50-year head coach Davis Eidahl. The head man received the All-GTNS nod after orchestrating his girls to a top-two state finish for the fifth consecutive season; the Panthers were state champions three of those seasons and second the other two. Pekin won conference and district titles in 2012 with several newcomers — including five runners new to the varsity level — proving their slogan “Tradition never graduates” is more than just words.
One of those new faces at Pekin, freshman Gwynne Wright, catapulted herself into elite status in her very first high school race. Wright grabbed the lead in the Ottumwa race’s opening moments and never looked back, finishing first by a solid 47 seconds. She would win most future races by a similar margin, earning the Southeast Iowa Super Conference title by nearly one minute and later adding a district title to her resume. When it came time for state, the freshman didn’t disappoint and finished fourth individually in a time of 14:39.
Maleaha Earnest, Pekin’s No. 2 runner and its unquestioned leader, makes her third straight appearance on the All-GTNS team. Few have been more integral to the Panthers’ recent string of success than Earnest, who finished second at the district meet, fourth at the SEISC meet and 23rd at state this fall. While the senior never was the top runner on any Pekin squad, she scored on two state champion squads as well as the runner-up teams in 2009 and 2012.
Behind Wright and Earnest, freshmen Taylor Lock and Sloan Reighard helped fill out Pekin’s top four spots.
Lock came on strong at the end of the season to claim fifth place at the SEISC meet and third at districts. Yet the freshman’s best performance may have come at the state meet, where she displayed nerves of steel to finish 28th.
Reighard was never far behind Lock and was sometimes ahead of her ninth-grade teammate. Reighard ended up seventh at the conference meet and just missed all-district honors with a 13th-place finish in Ottumwa. She also was a crucial part of the team’s runner-up finish at state, where she crossed the finish line 48th.
Outside of Eidahl, no 2012 selection is more familiar on the All-GTNS team than Fairfield senior Jessica Lamb. The Trojan finds her way onto the list for the fourth consecutive year, and for the second time made an appearance at the state meet. Lamb won two races in 2012, including the Fairfield Invitational, and she finished runner-up at the Southeast Conference meet. She capped it all with a fourth-place finish at her district meet in Pella and a 38th-place finish at state in Class 3A. Lamb also ran in the Iowa Association of Track Coaches Senior All-Star meet, finishing 26th out of 71 runners and competing for the runner-up southeast Iowa squad.
Mid-Prairie senior Mallory McArtor is also no stranger to the All-GTNS team after earning the honor last season. McArtor was a surprise qualifier for the state meet last fall, as she passed Albia’s Kristyn Graver in the final 200 meters of the district race to take 10th place and grab the final state qualifying spot. But McArtor was no surprise this year. She took second place at the Cedar Valley Conference meet, third at districts and 20th at state. Oh yeah, and she also played volleyball, leading the Golden Hawks in digs.
Mount Pleasant sophomore Natalie Ita stepped up to lead the Panthers this season. Ita finished first for Mount Pleasant in eight of 10 races, including the Panthers’ home meet, in which she took second overall with her season-best time of 16:19. The Mount Pleasant three-sport athlete also led the Panthers to their second consecutive team title at the Fort Madison Invite early in the year. At the end of the season, Ita helped Mount Pleasant to the runner-up spot at the Southeast Conference meet, taking all-conference honors with a fourth-place individual finish.
Like Eidahl with the Pekin girls, Highland head coach Angie Strobel makes a return appearance on the All-GTNS boys’ team in just her second season at the helm. Last year, Strobel led the Husky boys to their first-ever trip to the state cross country meet. This year, the Huskies won their first-ever conference championship. Highland went on to win the district meet in Ottumwa and earn a return trip to state, where the Huskies improved upon last year’s 11th-place finish.
Two of Strobel’s runners, Matt Eden and Evan Mahler, also make the All-GTNS squad for the second year in a row.
Eden was Highland’s top runner and senior leader all season long, and he led the Huskies to their first-ever conference championship with a fourth-place finish at the SEISC meet. He battled through illness to take seventh at the district meet and 44th at the state meet, where he led the team to a seventh-place finish.
Mahler was right behind Eden all season long. He finished fifth at the conference meet, one spot behind Eden, but then proved at the district meet in Ottumwa that he’s ready to lead the Huskies. He took second place to lead Highland to its second straight district title. Mahler struggled with severe cramping at the state meet, and it was a feat that he even finished the race. He came in 86th in Fort Dodge.
Both Eden and Mahler are joined by freshman teammate Tucker Hall, who came into his own at the end of the season. The fierce competitor earned all-conference honors at the SEISC meet, where he came in seventh to help the Huskies win their first-ever conference title. Then, after finishing 15th at the district meet, Hall was Highland’s second runner at the biggest meet of the year, finishing 46th at state.
Hall isn’t the only first-time runner to make the team this year and is joined by fellow rookies Austin Fariss of Pekin and Mount Pleasant’s Logan Mulford.
Like many of his female schoolmates at Pekin, Fariss needed little time at the high school level to make a big impact. The former junior high school state champion burst onto the scene as a freshman and only seemed to get better as the season went along. Fariss was a consistent top-two finisher for the Panthers all season and saved his best for last, qualifying for state at the district race in Ottumwa and then capping it all off with a 30th-place finish in Fort Dodge.
Mulford, on the other hand, ran for the first time this fall to prepare for basketball — but the senior quickly discovered he’s pretty good in cross country, too. Mulford led the Panthers in four races this season, including at the conference and district meets. He took home fourth place and all-conference honors at the SEC meet, and he finished the season 23rd at districts.
IMS’ Cody Miller took a break from cross country last fall to pursue his acting career, but the senior returned this season and had his best year yet. He earned all-conference honors with his sixth-place finish at the Southeast Iowa Super Conference meet, and finished fourth at the district meet in Ottumwa before finishing 23rd at the state meet. Miller also ran in the IATC Senior All-Star meet and finished 45th out of 91 runners for the winning Southeast squad.
Jared Draper rounds out the All-GTNS squad as a first-year selection. The Mid-Prairie sophomore took 10th place at the district meet in Columbus Junction to help the unranked Golden Hawks finish a surprising second, ahead of ranked teams from Albia and Northeast Goose Lake. Draper, who earned all-conference honors this season with his eighth-place finish at the Cedar Valley Conference meet, then led the Golden Hawks to a 12th-place finish at state, where he finished 55th individually.
The 2012 All-GTNS teams are selected by sports editors Michael Leach of the Fairfield Ledger, Ashlee De Wit of the Mt. Pleasant News and Travis Brown of the Washington Evening Journal.