By John Burbridge email@example.com
DECORAH — The start of a cross country race — when viewed from a distance — is rather peculiar.
A mass of runners starts out in one direction, while fans, coaches and photographers scurry off in other directions for shortcut passage to select vantage points along the course.
As for Charles City Comets, they’re continuing to coalesce closer together along their uniform route during this young season, and that paid off Saturday at the Luther College’s 45th All-American Invitational
“We’re starting to bridge that gap from our top scoring runners to our bottom scoring runners,” Charles City boys coach Ryan Rahmiller said after his Comets finished fourth in the varsity boys race behind champion Decorah, runner-up La Crosse (Wis.) Central and third place finisher Rochester (Minn.) Century).
It was the Comets’ best finish at the All-American Invite since winning it in 2013.
“We had five guys finish under 18:40 which is a first for us this year,” Rahmiller said.
Three-time state qualifier senior Gavin Connell led the Comets with a ninth-place 5K finish of 17 minutes and 9 seconds.
Comet juniors Mason Deeter and Nick Litterer finished 19th and 20th, respectively, with times of 17:28 and 17:31.
Freshman Antwone Cooper was the next Comet in with a time of 18:12; and sophomore Hayden Pleggenkuhle was the fifth Charles City scoring runner with a time 18:40.
“This was Antwone’s first varsity race and he ran well in a competitive field,” Rahmiller said, “and Hayden Pleggenkuhle continues to get better every race. He’s been a big surprise for us.”
In the junior varsity boys race, Comet freshman Austin Connerley placed third with a time of 18:52.
“Coming in third in a race of 270 runners is impressive,” Rahmiller said of Connerley. “He’s been getting closer and closer to breaking into the varsity lineup. This race did it for him as he’s definitely moving up.”
In the girls varsity race, Charles City placed eighth as a team with freshman Kiki Connell placing 10th with a time of 19:36 and junior teammate Whitney Martin close behind in 12th with a time of 19:37.
“On the average, this is our fastest meet of the season,” Charles City girls coach Amanda Rahmiller said. “We set or tied a lot of personal-bests today.”
Sophomore Mackenzy Bilharz was the next Comet in with the 39th-place time of 21:05, ahead of junior Mariah McKenzy, whose 58th-place time of 21:35 bested her previous personal-best by a second.
Sophomore Ingrid Hernandez was the fifth Comet in with a time of 22:16 — another personal-best.