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Comet Kiki Connell sets school record while winning 1st NEIC XC title

Comet Kiki Connell sets school record while winning 1st NEIC XC title
Press photo by John Burbridge
Charles City junior Kiki Connell builds a lead on way to winning her first NEIC cross country title with a winning 5K time of 18 minutes, 30 seconds. The effort broke a previous school record set by McKayla Cole in 2016.

By John Burbridge

CHARLES CITY — Regardless of past achievements, committed athletes are always chasing something.

Charles City seventh-grader Xander Graeser chases the pace cart with the goal of eventually overtaking it.

Comet junior Kiki Connell has been chasing the school’s girls cross country record as well as a formidable conference rival.

During Tuesday’s Northeast Iowa Conference Cross Country Meet at Wildwood Golf Course, Graeser couldn’t quite catch the cart — though he came close at the 1.5-mile mark. Connell, however, bolted past her goals and then some.

“I’m a mental runner, but sometimes I think a little too much,” said Connell, who — as usual — was neck-and-neck with rival and friend Emma Hoins through two miles of the girls varsity 5K race. Connell has been here before, but recent results have not gone her way as Waverly-Shell Rock junior Hoins had rolled off a winning streak against Connell that started last track season.

“When she would break free from me, I wouldn’t go out with her and just keep running my race,” Connell said. “Then I saw a window for me to take off first. Once I built a lead, I just tried to think positive from there.”

Connell’s wide-margin winning time of 18 minutes, 30 seconds not only set a personal-best by 18 seconds, but broke a Charles City school record by 10 seconds set by McKayla Cole in 2016 when she placed second in the Class 3A girls race at the State Cross Country Championships.

Connell placed sixth at the 2017 state meet with a time of 19:04. It wasn’t until last week at the Dike-New Hartford Wolverine Invitational that Connell got under 19 minutes with a then PB 18:48.

“I knew she was going to come in either first or second,” Charles City girls head coach Amanda Rahmiller said. “After what she did at Dike, I knew she had a chance for the record. But I didn’t think she would break it by this much.”

For Connell, who considers her home Wildwood GC course as one of her least favorites, it was her first NEIC cross country title.

With Lydia Staudt and Mindi Neve placing sixth and 11th, respectively, for all-conference honors for the Comets, Charles City placed second with 66 team points. Decorah was first with 28 team points.

Graeser’s two-mile winning time of 11 minutes, 51 seconds shaved 20 seconds off his previous PB. It also helped the Comets win the boys middle school race as their 38 team points were 14 better than runner-up Decorah.

With Graeser, Charles City placed six runners in the Top 15 — Nick Williams (5th, 12:28), Ezekiel Causey (6th, 12:30), Kaden Kirby (12th, 12:49), Avery Schoeck (14th, 12:54 and Isaac Thompson (15th, 12:54) — with Comet eighth-grader Lukas Vance 1 second away from getting a Top 15 certificate.

“We encourage our athletes to run with heart and joy,” Charles City middle school coach Eric Hoefer said, “and we saw that today.”

Hoefer estimated that at least three-fourths of his runners recorded personal-bests on Tuesday.

In the boys varsity race, Comet sophomore Jacob Vais earned all-conference honors with an 11th-place finish helping Charles City place fourth.

Decorah, paced by junior Brady Hogan’s dominant 15:59 winning time, won the boys varsity title.

Decorah also won both the junior varsity boys and girls races with Charles City runner-up in both races.