ALBIA — When does a win not really feel like a win?
When you hold yourselves to a higher standard, especially the standard the Pekin cross-country program has set with two teams ranked in the top 10 of Class 1A.
The Panthers produced a second team-title sweep in as many meets to open the season, beating Albia for both the girls and boys team titles at the home meet for the Blue Demons and Lady Dees. The fourth-ranked Pekin girls again swarmed the finish line with runners in the top 10, rolling past the Albia girls by 60 points, while the ninth-ranked Panther boys had an easier time beating the third-ranked (2A) Blue Demons at the Albia Reservoir by 24 points (29-53) than last Monday’s season-opening run at the Knoxville Early Bird that was decided by a single point.
The Pekin boys joined the girls in winning the team title on a hot night in Knoxville last week, narrowly edging Fairfield (42-43) for the season-opening win. Despite winning the first-place trophy, the Panther boys didn’t feel much like winners.
“It really kind of pissed us off with how we ran at Knoxville,” Brady Millikin said. “You could really tell on the ride up here (to Albia) that we were more focused and ready to go. It showed up in the results of the race.”
After opening his senior season with a 18-minute run at Knoxville, finishing second to Fairfield’s Alex Forrest, Millikin dropped over a minute on Monday at the Albia Reservoir Park. The sixth-ranked individual runner in Class 1A ran away from the pack, winning the race in 16:54 with teammate Zack Wise finally emerging in second place in 17:47.
“We pushed it hard this summer and we didn’t get the results we wanted at Knoxville,” Millikin said. “We knew we could do better. We showed it today.”
Pekin freshmen Isaac Gentry (sixth in 18:14) and Jaedon Wolver (ninth in 19:06) helped solidify Pekin’s second win of the season. Dawson Bonnett edged out teammate Max Teno by 14 seconds for sixth place to finish as Albia’s top runner, helping the Blue Demons nail down second place as a team 29 points ahead of Wayne and 30 points ahead of South Central Conference rival Knoxville.
“Dawson is ready. He’s a two-time state qualifier who is ready to take the reins for our program and help move us forward,” Albia head cross-country coach Todd Ratliff said. “Max is one of the seniors that wanted to know what he could do to best help our team this year. He’s moved up from being our sixth runner into that No. 2 spot with Brock (Ratliff) right behind him and a pretty good pack of runners not too much further back.
“As we improve on the season, we’ll see those large groups move near the front. I think it’s going to be good. I think it will be a really fun season.”
Lauren Derscheid and Lauren Steigleder again posted a 1-2 finish for the Pekin girls with Derscheid winning her second race of the season, beating Steigleder by 19 seconds in a time of 21:25. Sarah Eubanks and Lily Farris added two more runners in the top five for the Pekin girls with Eubanks placing fourth in 22:07 while Farris was fifth in 22:31.
Audrey Fariss added a sixth-place run for the Pekin girls in 22:54. By the time Lilly (eighth in 23:07) and Sabrina (ninth in 23:11) crossed the finish line, the team title was clinched with 36 of the 45 runners still out on the course.
“The whole key to whole thing. Running fast is important, but running together is the biggest thing. What helps is we can compete within ourselves,” Pekin head cross-country coach Davis Eidahl said.
The Albia girls were led by Allison Major, who placed 13th in 24:17 edging out Centerville’s Lauren Phillips by just six seconds. Brooke Smith (16th in 24:35), Avery Major (17th in 24:45), Juliana Brown (20th in 25:08) and Makena Cronin (21st in 25:48) helped the Lady Dees edge Knoxville for second in team points by seven (78-85).
Van Buren County had a pair of top-10 runs. Faith Neeley, back on the course for the first time since qualifying for the Class 1A girls state meet last year, finished seventh in 22:59 while Ian Peacock led the Warrior boys, placing ninth in 19:06.
The Moravia boys finished fifth in team points with 132 with teammates Matthew Seals (21:56) and Nick Alliss (21:59) battling to the end for 24th place. Hannah Starr led the Moravia girls at Albia, finishing 39th in 33:10.
Jobie Smith led the Centerville boys, finishing 51st in 26:09. While Albia, Centerville and Moravia all head to Wayne’s Invitational in Corydon on Thursday, Pekin will host Van Buren County and several other teams in Ottumwa at Wildwood Park.