By John Burbridge firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLES CITY — Gavin Connell is impressed by the freshman class of runners the Charles City High School cross country program has inherited.
“It’s going to be fun to watch them grow and improve throughout the years,” Connell said.
Even though the Comet senior has taken a liking to his ninth-grade teammates, that doesn’t mean has to run like them.
But that’s what Connell said he did at the Early Bird Invitational last week at Wildwood Municipal Golf Course.
“I played it like I was a freshman,” Connell said of his second-place finish at the Early Bird. “I went in thinking it was going to be an easy win, and I jumped out way too fast.”
Connell had a whole week to think about it before Thursday’s Trent Smith Invitational at the same site.
“I decided to sit back a little, and then make my move at mile two,” said Connell, who dropped 20 seconds from the week before while winning with a 5K time of 17 minutes, 5 seconds — well ahead of runner-up Nathan Martinek (17:18) of Crestwood.
“This was an important meet for us, and I wanted to do well,” said Connell, who headed a quintet of Comet runners — Mason Deeter (6th), Nick Litterer (7th), Isaak Jensen (17th) and John Perez (19th) — who were all Top 20 medalists in the boys 11/12th-grade race.
In the girls 11/12th-grade race, Crestwood senior standout Ellie Friesen dominated with a first-place time of 18:41.
The real race was for second place as Charles City junior Whitney Martin managed to finish strong along the homestretch to best Crestwood’s Abbie Bergan by 3 seconds for runner-up status with a sub-20 time of 19:57.
Charles City junior Mariah McKenzie medaled with an eighth-place time of 21:54.
The aforementioned Charles City freshman class had a first-place representative in both the boys 9/10th and girls 9/10th races.
Kiki Connell, sister of Gavin, won frosh-soph girls race with a time of 20:22. Fellow Comets Mackenzy Bilharz (7th), Ingrid Hernandez (12th), Adison Olson (14th) and Sehla Opp (18th) earned Top 20 ribbons.
Charles City freshman Antwone Cooper overtook two runners in the final mile to win the boys underclass race with a time of 18:32, besting runner-up Christian Rodriguez from Mason City by a little more than 3 seconds.
Hayden Pleggekuhle (6th), Zack Graeser (7th), Austin Connerley (8th), Phillip Bachman (9th), Aaron Jensen (16th) and Kakac Cameron (17th) each earned ribbons for the Comets.
In the middle school races, Riley Witt of Saint Ansgar was able finish 4 seconds ahead of Charles City’s Jacob Vais to win the boys race with a 2-mile time of 11:34.
Brielle Buresh of Decorah won the MS girls race with a time of 13:56. Lydia Staudt of Charles City was runner-up (14:04).
Charles City Middle School runner Maya Bruening earned a ribbon in the girls race with an 11th-place finish.
The invitational bears the name of three Comet runners — two graduates, Smith and TJ Houdek; and Logan Luft, who was going to be part of that talented incoming freshman class.
Smith and Houdek died last summer in roadway accidents; Luft died in an ATV accident this past Fourth of July.
The middle school and high school races are respectively named after Luft and Houdek.
Smith’s surviving father, Todd Smith, was at the event.
“I’m just humbled by everything this program has done for us,” Todd Smith said. “Before Trent got into cross country, I didn’t know anything about it. Now I see it’s more than just a sport. It’s more like family.”