OTTUMWA – Fall sports are back.

For how long? Time will tell with student athletes not only returning to multiple sports, but also returning to the classroom amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Of all the sports that high school athletes participate in, cross-country has the advantage of being a low-risk sport when it comes to the potential spread of COVID-19. In an era of social distancing, all runners try to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their closest competitor.

Like this past summer, when the Albia Lady Dees celebrated a historic softball season with a state championship in Fort Dodge, several area cross-country athletes are hoping to find state championship hardware at the end of the finish line this season. Both Davis County and Pekin have two of the top 10 teams in girls and boys cross-country in Classes 2A and 1A, respectively.

The stakes were raised a little more this past week when the Iowa High School Track Coaches Association released their preseason individual rankings after ranking Pekin (No. 4 girls, No. 9 boys in 1A), Davis County (No. 1 boys, No. 7 girls in 2A) and Albia (No. 3 boys in 2A) among the top teams in the entire state.

Davis County teammates Carson Shively (fourth) and Kenny Cronin (fifth) are right next to each other in the 2A boys individual rankings, as are Albia teammates Landon Noe (14th) and Dawson Bonnett (15th). The Davis County girls also have a ranked runner, senior Tatum Turner, who will open the season ranked 23rd.

As for Pekin, Brady Millikin enters the season ranked fourth among 1A boys. Lilly Fariss (20th) and Lauren Derscheid (27th) also start the season among the ranked 1A girls for the Panthers, who open the season along with Fairfield at Knoxville’s Early Bird meet on Monday.

Ottumwa

Coaches — Kristin Mitchell (girls, 2nd season); Jeff Smith (boys, 27th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Meghan Coulter, Sr; Sophia Ford, Sr.; Isabelle Martin, Sr.; Lina Newland, Jr.; Olivia Palen, Jr.; Chloe Shaw, Jr.; Jordyn Green, Soph.; Trinity Jones, Soph.; Emily Lord, Soph.; Lilly Mitchell, Soph.; Mallory Morgan, Soph. Boys: Max Thomason, Sr.; Asa Canny, Jr.; Mason Young, Jr.; Carter Elliott, Jr.; Jacob Mellin, Soph.; Gatlin Menninga, Sr.; Dante Salomon, Sr.; Alex Leon, Sr.; Chris Luedtke, Sr.; Jarrett Wellings, Soph.; Anthony Reyman, Jr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Jasmine Luedtke, Fr.; Mia Garza, Fr.; Fiori Weldmichael, Fr.; Mariah Frueh, Fr.; Jadyn Hallgren, Fr.; Mia Tanner, Fr.; Kara Lockwood, Fr. Boys: Zander Proctor, Fr.; Toby Schmidt, Fr.; William Miller, Fr.

Outlook — It’s a new era for Ottumwa, especially when it comes to the runners out front for the Bulldog girls after the graduation of state championship-winning twin sisters Alli and Grace Bookin-Nosbisch, as well as three-time state qualifier Carollin Mellin. Meghan Coulter, who joined Mellin and Bookin-Nosbisch in winning the first state championship in OHS girls track history in the 4x800 relay as a sophomore, is one of two senior captains for the Bulldog girls along with Mellin’s younger sister Isabelle and junior Lina Newland. The Ottumwa boys, meanwhile, have state hopefuls in Asa Canny, who capped his sophomore season finishing 21st in his first state qualifying race last fall, as well as returning experience from Max Thomason (40th in the state qualifier) and Gatlin Meninga (55th in the state qualifier).

“Everyone is back next year. That’s encouraging,” Ottumwa boys head cross-country coach Jeff Smith said. “If the guys put the time and the work in, I think we’re on the right path with Asa setting the example for all of them.”

Albia

Coach — Todd Ratliff (20th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Emma Martin, Jr.; Ellie Martin, Jr.; Brooke Smith, Jr. Boys: Brock Ratliff, Sr.; Dawson Bonnett, Jr.; C.J. Ratliff, Jr.; Travis Sheffield, Sr.; Max Teno, Sr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Avery Major, Fr.; Makenna Cronin, Fr.; Sayler Rozenboom, Fr. Boys: John Pistek, So.; Ethan Stalzer, Fr.

Outlook — The summer running program at Albia looked a lot different this past summer, but many of the athletes were able to get solid mileage. The Blue Demons look to stay top three in the conference, along with Davis County and Knoxville, and hope to return to state for third straight year as a team after placing ninth in 2018 and fourth last season. The Lady Dees lost five seniors and will be rebuilding with a solid group of incoming freshmen, who look to keep the Albia girls in the top half of conference and continue to improve meet by meet throughout the season.

Cardinal

Coach — Lindsay Albert (third season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Allison Sloan, Jr.; Alexia McClure, Sr.; Caitlyn Reber, Jr.; Lauren Snyder, Sr.; Araceli Tapetillo, Jr. Boys: Gavin Grove, Jr.; Gunner Zugg, Sr.; Reece Pedersen, Jr.; Landon Becker, Jr.; Archer Metcalf, Soph.

Top newcomers — Girls: Makenzi Preston, Fr.; Lauren Sloan, Fr.; Ashlynn Patrick, Fr.; Gisselle Sales, Fr.; Brinleigh Sparks, Fr.; Anabelle Miller, Fr. Boys: Archer Metcalf, Soph.; James Scheetz, Fr.; Griffen Sackman, Fr.

Outlook — After several seasons of struggling to even field enough runners to post team scores, the Comets finished last season placing in the top 10 as a team in both the girls and boys state-qualifying races at Williamsburg last season. Only two seniors (Ben Clark, Tony Castle) graduated after helping the Comets place ninth in the state qualifier with 800 state-qualifier Landon Becker slated to return, as well as senior Gunner Zugg after leading the Comets by placing 35th in the state qualifier. All five of Cardinal’s runners in the state qualifying girls race are slated to return, including Alexia McClure who is hoping to add to her athletic resume after earning all-conference and All-Courier honors on the softball field this summer.

Centerville

Coach — Matt Kruzich (14th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Mickey Stephens, Jr. Boys: Jobie Smith, Jr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Lauren Phillips, Fr.; Hannah Ballanger, Fr.; Tayliah Raub, Fr. Boys: Jesus Alarado, Fr.; Brady Belloma, Fr.; Hagen Byrd, Fr.

Outlook — Once upon a time, Matt Kruzich led the Centerville to a sweep of the South Central Conference team titles. Now, Kruzich is continuing to try and rebuild the numbers to get back in the race to produce team finishes for both varsity squads. The Centerville middle school squads did place in last year’s SCC meet with the Redettes finishing sixth among SCC middle school girls teams while the Big Red middle schoolers placed fourth in the conference.

Davis County

Coach — Josh Husted (11th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Makayla Bachman, Soph.; Sadie Spargur, Soph.; Addison Stuchel, Soph.; Macy Hill, Jr.; Tatum Turner, Sr.; Morgan Klaus, Sr.; Isabelle Settles, Jr.; Rose Birkner, Jr.; Madison Matheny, Sr. Boys: Kenny Cronin, Sr.; Carson Shively, Jr.; Brody Humphrey, Jr.; Alex Hopkins, Sr.; Mike Amsden, Sr.; David Nash, Sr.; Weston Shively, Sr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Nicole Derby, Fr.; Lydia Morrissey, Fr.; Karston Nebel, Fr.; Sophie Shively, Fr.; Leah Rudd, Soph. Boys: Bryson Benge, Fr.; Isaiah Miranda, Fr.; Mark Shirley, Fr.; Sutton Shively, Fr.

Outlook — This could be a very memorable season for many reasons for the Davis County cross-country program. Both teams are ranked very high in the preseason state rankings with the Mustang boys earning the No. 1 ranking in Class 2A. Josh Husted want both teams to be humble and confident in their efforts this season and be an example to other teams.

“Rankings mean nothing unless our athlete’s train well and produce results,” Husted said. “So far, our workouts have been incredible and we as coaches are seeing great progress.”

The Mustangs will also welcome a new coach to the staff. Former Ottumwa head girls cross-country coach Angela Cheney will be looking to help Husted guide the talented Mustangs after leading the Bulldog girls to a state team berth three years ago.

“She has been a wonderful asset,” Husted said of Chaney.

EBF

Coach — Alexis Kauzlarich (third season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Shelby Akers, Sr.; Lillie Hynick, Sr.; Nicole Edgren, Soph.; Samantha Rist, Jr.; Maddie Black, Jr. Boys: Jackson Sheldon, Sr.; Reilly Flaig, Sr.; Garrett Leonard, Sr.; Kyle Davis, Soph.; Sam Seddon, Soph.; Noah Walker, Soph.; Kody Arnold, Soph.; Carsen Wade, Soph.; Grant Larue, Soph.; Cayden Hall, Jr.; Tommy Bozeman, Jr.; Elijah Fisher, Jr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Abby Jager, Fr. Boys: Jackson Tuller, Fr.; Cael Lenox, Fr.; Connor Arnold, Fr.; Colton Brown, Fr.

Outlook — Consistency was the name of the game last season as the Rocket boys and girls both placed fifth in the South Central Conference and 12th in the Class 2A state qualifying meets. The Rocket boys have more returning talent with 10 of the 11 runners that competed in the SCC meet last year slated to come back this season. Shelby Akers, meanwhile, edged out Madysen Wade last year to become the top female runner for the Rockets by the end of the season with Nicole Edgren moving up to the third-best runner as a freshman for the EBF girls.

Fairfield

Coach — Jerrod Belzer (13th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Kelsey Pacha, Jr.; Makenzie Kraemer, Soph. Boys: Alex Forrest, Sr.; Kaidyn Mickels, Jr.; Gavin Van Veen, Soph.; Blake Holden, Brecken Courtright, Jakob Watson

Top newcomers — Girls: Malena Bloomquist, Carley Seeley. Boys: Ben Boatright.

Outlook — The Trojan girls have a solid top four with a need to fill in the fifth, sixth and seventh spots to be in good shape for team scoring this season. The Fairfield boys also have what Belzer describes as ‘a great group of senior guys who we’ll be looking to to lead us this year.’

“We also have Kaidyn and Gavin who were outstanding last year as underclassmen,” Belzer said. “We go into the season with high expectations. We won the Southeast Conference two years ago and were in the running last year until an injury to our number three set us back quite a bit. We know the conference will be tough but we believe we’ve got a great shot at it.”

Moravia

Coach — Darcie Whitlow (first season)

Top athletes returning — Boys: Matthew Sales, Soph.; Carson Brown, Sr.; Chace Hamilton, Sr.; Brody Robison, Jr.; Keeton Ellison, Soph.; Cole Hamilton, Soph.; Chase Uhlenhake, Jr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Jennie Robison, Fr. Boys: Jackson McDanel, Fr.

Outlook — The Mohawk boys brought enough athletes to Marshalltown last fall to earn a 24th-place finish as a team in the Class 1A state qualifying meet. Six of the seven runners that took part in that 2019 finale are slated to return in 2020 with a Chase Uhlenhake and talented freshman Jackson McDanel more than capable of moving in to help the Mohawks move up the standings this fall.

Pekin

Coach — Davis Eidahl (47th season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Kaitlyn Glosser, Sr.; Emily Laumeyer, Jr.; Lauren Derscheid, Jr.; Sarah Eubanks, Jr.; Lily Faris, Jr.; Mia Clark, Jr.; Lily Reneker, Soph.; Sabrina Reneker, Soph. Boys: Brady Millikin, Sr.; Zack Wise, Jr.; Simeon Buie, Sr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Adalia Keith, Jr.; Zoey Johnson, Jr.; Audrey Fariss, Fr.; Lauren Steigleder, Fr.; Kylie Wise, Fr.; Erica Hoy, Fr.; Lexi Swearingen, Fr.; Lillian Buie, Fr. Boys: Chandler Stull, Jr.; Gavyn Brown, Soph.; Jaedon Wolver, Fr.; Isaac Gentry, Fr.; Ben Guise, Fr.; J.T. Spray, Fr.

Outlook — Both teams again qualified for the Class 1A state meet a year ago. Unlike last year, numbers have only increased throughout the program leading to both teams opening this season ranked in the top 10.

Of the 16 girls the fourth-ranked Panthers have out this year, all seven athletes that ran in the state meet last year are back this season. During the summer the girls put in some good workouts and made much improvement, according to their hall-of-fame head coach.

“Last week at camp, the girls showed that they are ready to be a state contender this year,” Eidahl said. “Besides having all of our returning state runners, we have two freshmen that placed second and third in the Washburn Classic (the Iowa state middle school meet).”

Kaitlyn Glosser, who ran in the state meet her sophomore year, is looked upon to be one of the leaders of our team. The Panthers boys, meanwhile, will look to move forward after the graduation of Kaitlyn’s older brother and state placewinner, Colten, with two-time state placewinner Brady Millikin leading the ninth-ranked Panther boys.

“This year could be one of Pekin’s better teams they have had in the last few years,” Eidahl said. “Brady will be one of the favorite to win a state title. Zach Wise and Gavyn Brown, both state runners last year, are back to add depth to the squad. Chandler Stull, who ran his freshman year, is back out and running very well.”

Pekin’s youth isn’t too shabby, either. The Panther boys won the state middle school team title as eighth-graders last fall with the talented freshmen class (one of the best, according to Eidahl, in many years) includes Jaedon Wolver, Isaac Gentry, Ben Guise and J.T. Spray helping to make Pekin one of the better Class 1A teams in the state.

Sigourney

Coach — Steve Sattz (first season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Alyssa Landgrebe, Sr.; Sydney Atwood, Sr.; Georgia Atwood, Soph.; Addison Strovers, Soph. Boys: Mason Moore, Sr.; Trace Bell, Sr.; Thomas Maltese, Sr.; Levi Dehne, Soph.; Zack Ives, Soph.

Top newcomers — Girls: Taliyah Webster, Fr.; Lana Thomas, Fr. Boys: Carlos Portillo-Meija, Fr.; Kevin Portillo-Meija, Fr.

Outlook

Going into a program rebuilding year, Sigourney is looking to compete right away in the South Iowa Cedar League. Heading the team will be Mason Moore, who will look to make a third straight state appearance. Trace Bell will be a front runner in the conference this season and will look to make a push for top 15. Rounding out the team is Levi Dehne, who has made strides this summer and will be a threat throughout the season.

On the girls side, Georgia Atwood and Addison Strovers will look to continue to build off of improvement made over last season. Look for them to get progressively better as the year unfolds.

Van Buren County

Coach — Lucinda Moews (seventh season)

Top athletes returning — Girls: Faith Neeley, Jr. Boys: Ian Peacock, Sr.; Tarver Gerig, Jr.

Top newcomers — Girls: Lexy Buss, Fr. Boys: Peyton Poling, Fr.

Outlook — One year after coming up just short of qualifying for state in her first try, Faith Neeley took the next step forward finishing 10th in the 1A state qualifier to earn the trip to Fort Dodge. How will having a state qualifying runner in the fold help the Warriors this fall? Time will only tell.

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.w

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.w

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