By John Burbridge firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLES CITY — If you can’t be on time, be early.
Charles City sophomore Kiki Connell arrived earlier to the finish line than she did at last season’s Early-Bird Cross Country Invitational held annually to start the season at Wildwood Municipal Golf Course.
Last season, Connell won the first varsity race of her high school career with a 5K time of 20 minutes, 33 seconds.
In Thursday’s opener, now renamed the Charles City Invitational, Connell came in nearly a half-minute sooner (20:05), but had to settle for second place after Dike-New Hartford freshman Taylor Kvale separated from her along the course’s hilly homestretch to win with a first-place time of 20 minutes even.
Kvale, Connell as well as Waverly-Shell Rock sophomore Emma Hoins (20:07, 3rd), Denver junior Grace Beck (20:48, 4th) and Denver freshman Chloe Ristau (21:08, 5th) all were awarded with medals.
“(Connell) was pushed right from the gun from four runners, and after a mile, she was left racing with just one very talented freshman from Dike-New Hartford,” Charles City girls head coach Amanda Rahmiller said. “It was a phenomenal race on both runners’ parts; it was right around a 30 second improvement for Kiki from this point last season. To be 6 seconds away from breaking 20 already is a big deal.”
There was no official team score kept during the invite, which is generally considered a warm-up meet to start the season.
Other would-be scoring runners for Charles City included senior Mariah McKenzie (21:47, 7th), freshman Lydia Staudt (22:54, 14th), junior Mackenzy Bilharz (23:09, 15th) and sophomore Libbie McKeag (23:21).
With the exception of Staudt, all the aforementioned runners were part of Charles City’s state qualifying team that placed fifth in Class 3A. Connell placed sixth as an individual.
“For me, the star of the show was Mariah McKenzie,” Rahmiller said. “Mariah looked tough as nails; she got out in an extremely intelligent position with the key difference from years’ past being she maintained her place. She was an entire minute faster than this meet last year. She’s got big goals on her mind and has really keyed into the nutrition piece and it’s paying dividends.”
Rahmiller was also impressed by freshman Staudt.
“Being the NEIC middle school champion, that success typically transfers over well into high school and that’s what we saw tonight,” Rahmiller said. “As she keeps learning about racing this distance, we’ll only continue to see her times drop.
“Libbie McKeag also looked very strong tonight and put herself in a position to have success. She’s a fighter and that competitive drive really came out tonight. What she ran tonight didn’t come until about 7 weeks into the season last year so we’re very excited to see where she goes from here.”
Comet senior Mason Deeter was an individual state qualifier last season for the Charles City boys last season. And at last year’s invite, he medaled with a fourth-place finish.
For this year’s race, Deeter placed fifth (18:17) to lead all Comets.
Other medalists include Waverly-Shell Rock senior Sam Kepford (17:32, 1st), W-SR freshman Andrew Cummer (17:51, 2nd), Dike-New Hartford senior Seth Wibben (18:00, 3rd) and W-SR junior Logan McCullough (18:10, 4th).
Would-be team placers for Charles City were senior returning state-qualifier Nick Litterer (18:27, 7th), freshman Jacob Vais (18:44, 14th), sophomore Luke Smith (18:55, 16th), and junior Phillip Bachman (19:15, 20th).
“We had some nice surprises tonight and some learning that took place, as we had predicted,” Charles City boys head coach Ryan Rahmiller said. “Going in, we wanted to focus on our running form, and get used to race speed. Every runner left tonight with something to think about prior to the next meet, whether that be diet and water consumption, mind set, strategy, tactics, etc. We’re getting a race day strategy in place that they can use through the season. Clearly we have a lot of season left to work with and more work to do but tonight provided a way to see where we’re at now and shape things for the future.”
Among the performances Rahmiller cited was Smith’s time, which is nearly a minute faster than his personal-best from last season.
“Luke had a great track season and is going to play an important role on our team this year,” he said Jacob Vais ran a very smart race that played to his abilities. The future is bright for that young man and is a real pleasure to get to coach. Owen Weber cut 38 seconds and ran a nice race. He’s just getting started and I am excited to see where the season takes him.”
Next Thursday at Wildwood, Charles City will host the Trent Smith Invitational featuring the Logan Luft Memorial Runs (middle school) and the TJ Houdek Memorial Runs (high school).
Smith and Houdek were both former Charles City High School cross country runners who died in separate automobile accidents during the summer of 2016.
Luft was one of the top Charles City Middle School runners and was due to be part of a talented incoming freshman class before he died in an ATV accident during the Fourth of July of last year.