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Ehlers spearheads Spartans’ sprint to third

October 22, 2017
Thorn Compton - Central Iowa Press , Reinbeck Courier

REINBECK - Saturday's running of the North Iowa Cedar League meet at Oak Leaf Country Club resembled more of a Tough Mudder race than a cross country one, with the athletes in attendance battling wind, rain, and, of course, mud.

Those less-than-ideal conditions didn't seem to bother the Class 2A No. 14 Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck girls, however, as the Spartans came away in third in their home meet with a team score of 108.

GC/G-R junior Lily Ehlers, who was the highest area finisher on the day with a fourth-place time of 20 minutes, 53 seconds, said when she's in the moment of the race the soggy conditions don't bother her so much.

"Once you're running it's not that bad, you kind of just forget about it, but when you're done it's not so fun because your clothes and stuff are wet," Ehlers said. "I would say it didn't affect me, I was a little cold but once you start running for a while it's fine."

Ehlers was able to finish in fourth due to a great kick to finish off the final leg, as she had to pass a few runners to earn the top honors in the area.

"I would say I had a nice finish, I was proud of my finish, I am glad I got that girl at the end towards about the half-mile marker," she said.

Ehlers earned first-team all-conference honors with her performance, while teammates Reegan Zinkula and Cora Saak each earned second-team nods by finishing in 14th and 15th respectively. Shelby Rivera also finished as an all-conference honorable mention by coming in 23rd.

Spartans head coach Andy McQuillen said, in a meet that featured four ranked teams and seven ranked individuals, his girls coming out in third place the way they did shows they are on the right track as the season draws to a close.

"We are starting to hit our stride here at the right part of the season, we go down to Pella Thursday and that's where we want to put our best foot forward but I thought today was a district-caliber meet, even possibly a state-caliber meet. For us to get third here was a good sign for what's to come," he said.

West Marshall was the next-highest placer for the local teams, coming in fifth with a team score of 130.

Avril Sinning, the 12th-ranked runner in 2A, led the way for the Trojans, earning a first-team all-conference placing by coming in ninth with a time of 21:18.

West Marshall head coach Cynthia Hilleman said she was proud of the way Sinning, who missed a few meets earlier in the season due to an undisclosed injury, competed in such a tough meet.

"She really has worked hard to get back into perfect shape like she had been doing and she had a good finish so I am really glad for her," Hilleman said of her lead sophomore.

Grace Girard and Reyna Jorgensen each earned second-team all-conference spots with their performances, coming in 12th and 17th respectively, and Hilleman said as a whole her girls handled the nasty weather conditions well.

"I was really pleased with how they ran, I told them we had certain goals to meet but with the rain and the mud we had to adjust what we wanted to do," Hilleman said. "I was really happy with how most of them finished so it was good."

Another girl who handled the bad weather well was East Marshall's Melinda Puumala, who was the second-highest area finisher with her fifth-place time of 20:54 seconds.

Puumala said the conditions actually gave her an advantage in the meet, both because it's her preferred running weather and because she was prepared for the mud pit that the course would turn in to.

"We knew it was supposed to be like this and I actually like running in rain so it was kind of a benefit to me, and a lot of other people don't like it," Puumala said with a giggle. "Some of the people who weren't wearing, their shoes were getting were getting stuck in the soft parts of the mud but I was wearing like half-inch spikes, which really helped me."

That increased footing came in handy late in the race for Puumala, as she was in a dead heat towards the end with two other girls fighting for fifth place. She said as the group approached the finish line, she felt confident in what reserves she had left in the tank.

"I usually think I have a good kick at the end, so when the Jessup girl, Emily Treptow, passed me I was like 'well I have to stay with her so I can beat Caroline Stokes from Denver in front of me,'" Puumala said. "When we got her I started thinking 'why not go farther and get this girl,' so I ended up getting her and they started yelling 'East Marshall' and that felt good."

The Mustangs as a whole had a great race, coming in just behind West Marshall to place sixth with a team score of 134. On top of Puumala's first-team all-conference placing, Wendy Liera earned a second-team all-conference honor by taking 20th and Maddie Duncan was an honorable mention with her 24th-place finish.

East Marshall head coach Trent Taylor said all three of those girls ran exceptionally on the day, and if they can keep this up through the district meet next week the Mustang girls could shock the rest of the field.

"We had three girls that are going to get some all-conference honors. Melinda now has broken the 21-minute barrier and she is getting healthy," Taylor said. "Windy Liera is running outstanding, she is running in the low 22s. Maddie Duncan is now back down to 22 and running where she should be."

"I've been saying this now for a while, once we started seeing them get healthy and seeing the times come down, our girls actually placed better than our boys at the South Hamilton meet. We've been trying to get it into their head that they could qualify on Thursday."

Though they didn't have a team score, South Hardin did earn two all-conference honorable mentions, with senior Chloe Webb and junior Jordan Carr finishing in 22nd and 27th respectively.

BCLUW also didn't have a team score, but junior Katie Thompson did pace the Comets with her 33rd-place time of 22:56.

Now, each area team sets their sights on the state qualifying meets on Thursday.

East Marshall travels to Iowa City for its qualifier, and Taylor said if his girls can get one more person to step up and run a good race, they have a strong chance for a team qualification.

"Our number five is still our Achilles, but we have one or two girls that, under better conditions I know they can run a lot better than that," he said. "That would be awesome if we could get two teams to qualify, and the girls deserve it."

Even if the team a as a whole can't quite make the qualification, there is still a chance at individual qualifications for some of the Mustangs, and Puumala said she wants nothing more than to add another state appearance under her belt.

"I have made it there two years in a row in my freshman and sophomore years, and I am really, really hoping to make it my junior year so I can be three, and maybe four-time state qualifier by the end," she said.

West Marshall and GC/G-R face off against each other and 13 other teams in Pella on Thursday. The Trojans and Spartans have competed numerous times throughout the season, and Ehlers said she knows what to expect when stepping onto the course in the qualifier.

"There are two really good teams there in Mid-Prairie and West Marshall so we are going to watch out for them," she said. "I've heard PCM isn't bad either, but there are only two teams I am familiar running against with Mid Prairie and their two really good sisters that win all the time and West Marshall has beat us before."

As for what the West Marshall team will focus on in practice before competing for a chance to go to state, Hilleman said as a whole she wants to see the girls working together more on the course.

"I think we need to work on working as a group, working and catching people and keeping an eye on what we want to accomplish," she said. "I think tweaking some little things in practice might help us get a few more points on them as well."



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